PHILADELPHIA -- Imagine how tempting this offer must have sounded to an 18-year-old kid from Southern California, fresh out of high school.

Come start your professional baseball career now. Someday, you can play for the Dodgers, the same team you cheered for while growing up.

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That's the offer Phillies second baseman Chase Utley had to turn down when the Dodgers picked him in the second round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft. Instead, Utley chose to attend UCLA and hoped that an opportunity to play professional ball came along again.

It did, and now Utley's baseball life is coming full circle as his Phillies prepare to take on his former favorite team, the Dodgers, in the National League Championship Series.

"It was a difficult decision," Utley said Tuesday. "Obviously, playing professional baseball was a dream of mine."

Utley was two months shy of his 10th birthday when his father took him to Game 2 of the 1988 World Series at Dodger Stadium. The two sat right along the rail in the park's second level to watch Orel Hershiser shut down the Athletics for a 6-0 Dodgers victory.

"They had a good team back then in the late '80s," Utley said. "They were exciting to watch."

Utley worked his way onto the Dodgers' radar during a stellar career at Long Beach Polytechnic High School. In his senior year, Utley hit .525 with 12 home runs, six triples, six doubles and 48 RBIs.

Word spread quickly about Utley, as he was named an All-America by Collegiate Baseball, Baseball America, the American Baseball Coaches Association and the National High School Baseball Coaches Association. The Dodgers responded by selecting him as their second-round pick in the 1997 Draft.

Decision time.

"[The] money was there," Utley said. "But, for me, it was about trying to get that college experience. I'm happy with my decision, going to college, and I wouldn't change it for the world."

The Phillies wouldn't change it for the world, either.

Utley bolstered his draft stock in a huge way at UCLA, hitting .342 with 174 RBIs in 177 career games. His 53 home runs rank fourth on the school's all-time list. The Phillies selected him with their first-round pick (15th overall) in the 2000 Draft.

"I feel pretty fortunate," Utley said, "being here in Philadelphia at this time with this group of guys."

This group has a chance to do something special, but they will be looking for more production from Utley than he turned in during the Phils' NL Division Series win over the Brewers.

During that series, Utley was held to two hits in 15 at-bats. Add in his 2-for-11 performance in last year's NLDS against the Rockies, and Utley is hitting an uncharacteristically low .154 in his postseason career.

He'll certainly be looking to turn that around against the Dodgers.

"I'm trying to find some holes, trying to put a good at-bat together," Utley said. "That's the whole goal."