Chase Utley's restructured offseason started with twice-weekly fielding sessions at the University of San Francisco, located near his home in northern California. As the winter progressed, so did the intensity of his workouts on the fields on campus. Now, four months after the end of another frustrating season for the Phillies veteran second baseman, Utley is optimistic that the new program he has adopted will give his career new life.
"I feel pretty damn good right now," the 34-year-old star said.
Utley was similarly optimistic one year ago when he reported to camp, but that optimism vanished within a couple of weeks as his knee condition flared up in response to the increased intensity of his baseball workouts. The rest of the story is well known. Utley visited a new specialist in Arizona, who introduced him to a new program, one that Utley says left him feeling much better than the season before. The second baseman missed the first three months of the season. This year, though, he never stopped doing baseball workouts in the offseason, and he focused on distributing strength more evenly through his body, two key differences that he hopes will enable him to be on the field when the Grapefruit League schedule begins a week from Saturday.
"It obviously didn't work the last couple of years, so I wanted to change it up and do something different," said Utley, who missed the first two months of 2011 too. "The program I followed last year didn't work for me, so I needed to make an adjustment to get on the field."
Around Christmas, Utley sent manager Charlie Manuel a text message that said, "If you are good this year, Santa might bring you a healthy second baseman."
That is exactly what Utley believes he is. Asked if he felt like he could play 140 games, Utley did not hesitate. It is a pivotal year for the second baseman, who said he feels like he has a lot of baseball left in his body. He is scheduled to become a free agent after the season for the first time in his career.
"I'm obviously aware of that, but I don't think it really changes anything that I've done," Utley said. "I've approached every season the same way. The last two years didn't go well as far as getting on the field intitially. So obviously you know about it, but you aren't going to change anything.
"I enjoy this game. I feel like I have a lot to still do in this game. So who knows. I'd like to play more than this year, that's for sure."
Utley said that he, Manuel and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. have not decided on an exact plan for the Grapefruit League, but Utley said he would like to be on the field for the home opener.
"That's something we're going to sit down, Ruben and Charlie, pretty soon and map out a plan," Utley said. "Obviously I want to get some at-bats and some innings in the field under my belt. Don't want to overdo it too much, but I want to be out there, for sure."
Of course, nobody knows exactly how Utley's chronic knee condition will continue to respond to the baseball he expects to play. Asked if he has been told to expect his knees to get worse over time, he responded, "It depends on who you talk to."