"Took a bead on the northern plains and just rolled that power on."—Bob Seger, Roll Me Away
The Silver Bullet Man doesn't get enough credit for his lyrics in this humble scribe's opinion. Sure, you can take him literally in everything he writes because his strokes work in that regard, but nobody ever found a subtle literary undertone without looking for it.
The Man could've simply been referring to the northern plains of the Dakotas, Minnesota, or Montana. Or he could've been alluding to the greater glory the Fates have metaphorically placed above all our heads.
I choose the second—Seger's at a crossroads in his life and he's looking for the right direction, one he thinks he's found for the moment.
Regardless, the metaphor jumped to mind with the Philadelphia Phillies a-knockin' on the door at AT&T Park. It does so for one reason—Chase Utley.
Whenever the Phils' annual roadie in the City comes around, we get an up-close, flesh-and-blood look at a baseball player who's well on the way to his own northern plains.
An individual plying the trade he was put on this planet to ply, and—as is always the case when you see someone in his or her natural element—it's a gorgeous thing to see.
Something special to be appreciated as such.
There's a decent chance I should be ashamed to admit this, but I'm not—No. 26 on the Phightin's is my favorite player in Major League Baseball. Nor is the matter particularly close.
That probably sounds supremely blasphemous coming from a die-hard San Francisco Giant fan, and perhaps it is.
With Pablo Sandoval, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson, Bengie Molina, Randy Winn, Aaron Rowand, and the emergent Nate Schierholtz on the roster, the Orange and Black has plenty to offer in the way of fan favorites.
Every name on the list seems likable, admirable, and is either good or exceptional with his chosen baseball tools.
Furthermore, Chase reserves a special brand of torture for my beloved bunch—he has a knack for delivering crushing hits, pinch-hit grand slams, and an assortment of other much-appreciated punctures.
Nevertheless, there are too many, more important reasons to root for the guy—some of which I won't get into.
However, one thing I will cover is the way Chase plays the game.
It's not just his excellence on the diamond, although that is clearly part of it.
His hitting is unreal and barely needs mention at this point—.300/30/100/100 from second base essentially every year since he took over the position full-time.
Throw in 40+ doubles and 15-20 steals when he's healthy and you begin to get a picture of the talent level.
But even casual fans should know about his splinter by now. To sincerely appreciate this player, you need to look closer. Specifically, at his defense.
Those of us following his career from its earliest days know that Utley's bat was never the issue. The perennial All-Star was almost certainly going to rake, the question was whether his leather would exile him to the corner outfield spots or maybe first base.
Turned out to be a lot of wasted wonder and anxiety.
The native of Southern California doesn't appear to be the type to settle for one dimension on the field, even if the absence of breadth wouldn't stand in the way of fame and riches.
I never really thought his defense was a serious issue, but anyone who saw the miracles he turned in the 2008 playoffs and World Series knows the doubts are long gone.
Utley's turned himself into an excellent defender over his career—still guilty of momentary lapses like anyone else, but nails when games or seasons are on the line.
You can take your .998 fielding percentage, I'll take the guy with the proven ability to get it done when failure means joining Bill Buckner's support group.
Yet, to really appreciate Chase Utley, you need to peer even closer. You need to dissect the way he carries himself on the baseball field.
Take, for instance, the episode with Jonathan Sanchez in Thursday night's game.
The San Francisco southpaw was having some, ahem, control issues with his fastball and one of his heaters got away from him. The wayward smoke went right over Utley's head, at which point the Phillie pride glared back at the mound and made it clear he wasn't pleased.
Sanchez stared right back—I'm sure thinking it was obvious he wasn't trying to hit an opponent in the head during a 7-1 ballgame and taking exception to Chase's blatant feelings to the contrary.
The National League's Most Valuable Player not named Albert Pujols responded by calling time late in the young lefty's wind-up, further indulging the show of bravado.
Guess what happened next? More heat and emotion from our guy.
Until Utley took a 2-2 pitch over the right field wall for a solo final word in the matter. In the wake of the emphatic end, Chase was so impressed with himself that he put his head down and went into a brisk trot around the bases.
He did NOT show up Jonathan Sanchez.
Despite the back-and-forth, despite the fastball over his head that will provoke ANY hitter at ANY level (even a clear accident, as Mike Krukow pointed out), despite the obvious tension coming off both hurler and hitter, the victor merely swung and scurried.
No jawing, no flexing, no nothing. Instead, only boring dignity and class. The way it should be done.
What more need be said? What possible posture could speak more volumes than the timely four-bagger? Nothing and none.
It's something the old school understands, which means it's something Utley understands.
It's something I hope I would've understood had I the necessary physical tools and/or the requisite mental profile to play the game at it's highest level. But I didn't.
Thankfully, with players like Chase Utley still in the game, I can still pretend.