The reluctant superstar
Utley's parents give their perspective of All-Star son
PHILADELPHIA -- On May 28, Major League Baseball announced its first batch of results for National League All-Star balloting. Atop the list with the most votes for any position was Phillies second baseman Chase Utley.
Not Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols.
Not Hall of Famer-to-be Ken Griffey Jr.
Not hottest hitter on the planet Chipper Jones.
Not even Utley's MVP teammates, Ryan Howard or Jimmy Rollins.
In fact, the only Major League players to have more votes than Utley were the new-age Bash Brothers, Red Sox sluggers Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.
Surprised? If you are, you shouldn't be. Since making his Major League debut with the Phillies in 2003 as a wiry-thin second baseman, Utley's profile -- like his batting average -- has steadily risen each year. Already considered around Major League Baseball as one of the best players in the game, Utley's celebrity status has begun to reach beyond the white lines.
In just the first six months of 2008, Utley graced the cover of Lifestyle Magazine and was prominently featured in ESPN the Magazine, Men's Fitness, Philadelphia Magazine and Philadelphia Style Magazine. He was also invited to participate in a discussion panel later this summer for HBO's "Costas Now," hosted by Emmy Award-winning sportscaster Bob Costas.
Men's Fitness listed him as one of the "Top 25 Fittest Guys in America," on a list that included Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, actor Will Smith, UFC fighter Mac Danzig and pro golfer Tiger Woods, among others. Not bad company.
Since Utley would rather do just about anything else in the world than talk about himself, Phillies Magazine went to a couple that knows him better than anybody: his parents, the very proud Dave and Terrell Utley.
First, they were asked to sum their son up in one sentence.
"He's always been reserved and contemplative," Dave said. "He's not the guy who's going to be the life of the party."
Utley's mom, Terrell, went in another direction.
"He's a trendsetter," she said. "Always was."
It's not hard to see both traits in the superstar second baseman. Utley keeps a relatively low profile in the clubhouse, if he's even in it at all. Prior to games, he is hard to track down as he hustles from the video room, where he tirelessly studies opposing pitchers, to the batting cage, where he works every day to make his swing better. After games, when speaking to the media, he is very careful to give the credit for wins to others around him. If he didn't do another interview for the rest of his life, he'd be OK with that.
As for being a trendsetter, he is clearly one of the leaders in the clubhouse and sets a tone of "winning or else" for those around him. There is no second place in Utley's world.
Growing up in Long Beach, Calif., Utley had 1974 American League MVP Jeff Burroughs as his Little League coach. Burroughs had a 16-year Major League career with the Senators/Rangers, Braves, Mariners, A's and Blue Jays. His son, Sean, played briefly for the Padres and Rays.
"Jeff wasn't one to gush over people, but he made it known that he didn't want to mess with Chase's swing," Dave Utley said. "I've always thought that Chase was lucky to have an experienced eye. Jeff was a great youth baseball teacher. He had credibility with the kids because of who he was."
During his high school years at Long Beach Polytechnic, which also boasts Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn on its alumni list, scouts began seriously watching Utley. He was eventually taken in the second round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft by his hometown Dodgers but didn't sign, opting instead to go to UCLA.
"I was actually going to sign with the Dodgers, but I wanted to go on my senior class trip first," Utley recalled. "When I got back, I'd had so much fun, I decided to go to college. And I'm glad I did."
When a player doesn't sign as a second-round Draft pick, there's only one step higher to go -- the first round. It was a chance the ever-confident-but-never-arrogant Utley took because -- as he put it -- "If it was meant to be, it was meant to be."
Three years later, the Phillies did indeed choose him in the first round with the 15th pick of the 2000 First-Year-Player Draft. The biggest names picked in front of him included Adrian Gonzalez, Rocco Baldelli and Joe Borchard.
The California-raised kid is now an icon in Philadelphia with rock star status. His style of play fits the East Coast like a glove and he is arguably the most popular active sports figure in Philly.
Terrell is still taking in her son's rising Q Score. She describes it as surreal.
"It's totally different [in Philadelphia] than it is at home," she said. "We get off a plane [at Philadelphia International Airport] and get in a cab and pass a big billboard of him. It's kind of overwhelming and it's awesome."
This year, Utley took advantage of his celebrity status for a good cause. Along with his wife. Jen, he hosted "Utley's All-Star Animals," a charity event to benefit the Pennsylvania SPCA, where Jen is a volunteer. The event, which was attended by a number of Utley's teammates, raised close to $200,000.
Utley grew up around animals, as his mother volunteers at a veterinary clinic. "I am so proud of both of them," said Terrell. "They can't do enough for that type of cause. It doesn't get enough attention."
While Utley will continue to shun the spotlight, his father doesn't mind giving his boy the credit he deserves.
"You know the term 'dream come true?' Well, we could never dream this."
Greg Casterioto is manager, media relations, for the Phillies. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.