“There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s plenty of time. I know some people have given up on me and there’s some people that have given up on this team but I’ll be the first one to tell you that I definitely haven’t given up on myself and I know our guys haven’t given up on this year. We have strong-willed guys on this team.”
The above quote isn’t from a hockey captain, a head coach, or even a member of a team’s front office.
The above quote can be attributed to Phillies’ All-Star second baseman Chase Utley, whose Wednesday return to the big league club may finally be the turning point in what has so far been a painfully mundane and inconsistent 2012 baseball season in Philadelphia.
There have been a number of potential turning points for the Phillies over the past month or so. There was a six-game winning streak in mid-May. Then there was the dramatic two-out, ninth-inning rally against Colorado last week. We also had Jim Thome’s walk-off bomb to beat Tampa Bay this past weekend.
The problem with those potential turning points is that they were followed with more erratic play that resulted in bad losses and missed opportunities.
Utley’s return is an entirely different story. Why?
The answer is very simple. It has to do with the intangibles he brings to the team.
Sure, Utley’s numbers have been in steady decline since the team’s 2008 championship season. So what? Sometimes in sports, especially in baseball, stats aren’t everything and that’s the case here.
Chase proved that when he met with the media in a Citizens Bank Park dugout Monday afternoon.
Utley is usually cool, calm, and reserved when talking to the media. Monday was much to the contrary. He was fiery when talking about his doubters and his team’s doubters.
He knows his team needs its swagger and arrogance back, and his return to the lineup is the first step in that direction. He’s a leader by example with his play on the field and the way he carries himself in the clubhouse. He’s the ultimate injection of confidence, something the Phillies have noticeably lacked all season.
If you think he only fires up his teammates, wait until you see and hear the crowd Wednesday night at The Bank.
The usually rowdy and raucous yard has resembled the flat-line of a medical heart monitor way too often this season. For the most part, there just hasn’t been any life in the stands because there hasn’t been any reason to be vibrant due to injuries and the team’s performance. When Utley takes the field in the top of the first inning on Wednesday, you better be tuned in to see and hear the crowd’s reaction. It will be something you’re used to hearing.
Utley also said his legs have “felt better than they have in years and that he’s in a much better place than he was a month ago.” Additionally, he noted “he feels he can be the same hitter he was three or four years ago.”
If that happens, fantastic. But his presence in the lineup, his fire, and his confidence are enough for the Phillies to get the ball rolling again.
As of Tuesday, June 26th, the Phillies are eight games out of first in the NL East and four and a half games out of first in the NL Wild Card standings.
So then, if the Phillies turn it around and are still playing baseball in October, don’t look at a specific game or stretch of games as the turning point. Look at Wednesday, June 27th when Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” blasted throughout Citizens Bank Park and #26 walked to the plate for the first time in 2012.