Not since Pete Rose was diving headlong into third and spiking third outs into the Veteran’s Stadium astroturf has Philadelphia loved a baseball player more than Chase Utley. For a guy from southern California, Utley espouses the gritty East Coast sports fan ethos exceptionally well.
That said, it is very likely that Utley is going to hear some boos from the crowd at Citizens Bank Park if he doesn’t start hitting. These won’t be the throaty, malicious boos of the sort reserved in Philadelphia for the likes of Kobe Bryant and Michael Irvin, but they will be audible.
In fact, Utley was booed last month during his rehab assignment, in a game between the single-A Clearwater Phillies and Tampa Yankees after going 0-5 with three strikeouts, according to a report from Bob Brookover of Philly.com.
At the start of play Friday, Utley was hitting .222 with two home runs and 10 singles. His OBP is .283, a surprisingly paltry number even in this lineup of free swingers.
Utley is still working his way back to the speed of the majors, and most rational fans understand this. At the same time, he is making $15 million this year—and 30 more over the next two years of his contract—and at some point, the collective patience of the Phillies fanbase is going to wear thin.
It always does.
But it’s not just about what Utley is doing at the plate. Fans are peeved about the way Utley communicated the seriousness of his right knee injury to the Phillies' front office.
Anecdotally, this sentiment is easily found on online fan forums and reader comments on Phillies news articles. The thinking is, if Utley had acknowledged that the knee was going to be a problem earlier, the Phillies could have found a more offensively capable replacement than rookie Freddy Galvis.
So, unless Utley rediscovers his hitting stroke, it seems likely that 30,000 or so amateur sports physicians are going to let Utley hear their discontent.
In this miserable Phillies season, in which many games have devolved into hacking contests with Phillies players competing to see who can swing at balls furthest out of the strike zone, Utley’s patient approach is something this Phillies team has missed badly.
The good news is that Utley is unflappable and isn’t going to let the boos get to him. Remember what he told the booing fans at the 2008 All Star game at Yankee Stadium? If anything, he will probably use any booing he hears from Philly to focus his comeback.
"I know there are some people who have given up on me," Utley said last month just prior to his return, as reported by The Inquirer’s Matt Gelb. "There are some people who have given up on this team. I'll be the first one to tell you that I definitely have not given up on myself and our guys have not given up on this year.”