It's only January, but the Phillies are already worried
Chase Utley and the Phillies realize they have a lot of ground to make up if they want to regain their lofty status as fan favorites
It's only January, but the Phillies are already worried
The often incoherent, grammatically challenged ramblings of a man who has watched too much sports, listened to too much music and devoured too many club sandwiches.
The sight of Chase Utley, looking casually cool in his skull-cap and leather jacket, being marched around the city earlier this week had the look and feel of movie star on a publicity campaign for a film company worried about its next production.
Utley was more than able to handle the task, deftly dodging specific questions about team chemistry, but more than willing to put a positive spin on the summer of 2014.
His knees are good, his attitude positive, and his work ethic already on display.
So why would he be willing to take part in the public banter that he has avoided throughout his career?
The answer is simple.
Utley and the Phillies realize they have a lot of ground to make up if they want to regain their lofty status as fan favorites. And as a fan favorite himself, Utley realizes he must be part of that process, ensuring he continues to play in front of a packed Citizens Bank Park.
The view from the grandstands had been that the Ruben Amaro Jr. and Co. should have moved on from the core group of Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard over the past season.
But what’s done is done, and the reality of the situation is that much of the cast has remained intact. It’s now up to those players to make the fans realize they are buying tickets for the NL East contending Phillies, and not a farewell tour or an alumni team.
It will be a heavy load, and an even heavier burden when you consider it must be carried by a bunch of guys already battered with bad ankles, knees, Achilles tendons, and even egos.
Thus, the 2014 season will not start as so many previous have – with abundant hope. The failures of the last two seasons have placed the fans back in the mind frame of a decade ago, a decade when you hoped for the best, but expected the worst.
That’s what happens when a team can’t score runs. It’s what happens when you have a huge payroll but spend the postseason watching from home. And it’s what happens when your ownership and management haven’t upgraded to version 2.0 or 3.0 or wherever the Phillies should be at this point.
Still, not all hope is lost.
The team is still blessed with a sturdy one-two punch of lefties with Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. There is supposed to be a commitment to detail with Ryne Sandberg. And they certainly have players who have gotten the job done in the past.
Is it impossible for the Phillies to manage at least one more glass of champagne out of this vintage roster? It may not be likely, but it’s also not impossible.
Think of it this way: Did you ever think you would see Chase Utley on a goodwill romp through Philly in January?
Probably not. Sort of makes you feel like at least he knows this is a big challenge, and you would be crazy to bet against Utley.
Is it just me, or does the Flyers’ Jake Voracek look like a red-haired version of David Grohl?
And while on the matter of the Flyers, we should all be worried that Vinny Lecavalier has been in a month-long slump. He perked up with a late game-winning goal in Buffalo, but overall he looks out of place in a Flyers game plan that stresses defense.
It was even a worry that Lecavalier would be a big contributor in Peter Laviolette’s up-tempo offense, but it’s hard to believe he would look any worse than he does in coach Craig Berube’s more defensive system.
Most sports fans who are still able to walk up a stairway without gasping for breath probably never saw the basketball rivalry between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, and that is why it is so cool to have Tom Brady face Peyton Manning again this Sunday when the Denver Broncos host the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game. You never know, this could be the last matchup between the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and every meeting should be appreciated.
Truth be told, Manning has a lot more to lose in terms of his so-called legacy, but in the case of the fans at home watching, the legacy to remember is the head-to-head contest between the two.
No doubt the NFL has a strong hold on its fans in every market, but the real strength of the league is its national platform, and at this point, Manning and Brady are still the national focal points.
The status of Brady and Manning should also make Eagles fans feel pretty good about Nick Foles. With all the attention of zone-read quarterbacks and guys who can run such as Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton, the sight of Brady and Manning in yet another conference title game highlights the never-ending value of a guy who is a more classic stand-and-throw quarterback.
The real key to any option quarterback is the availability of a premier running back to keep the defense honest, and give the quarterback a place for that option.
With that in mind, consider that the Eagles’ real window of opportunity to win a Super Bowl will extend only as long as Shady McCoy is a premier running back.
Nobody asked me, but if I were the commissioner of all things sports I would make Alex Rodriguez spend the entire 2014 baseball season as a post-game analyst with Bud Selig for 162 games of the Houston Astros.
They both deserve each other, and nobody would ever see them.