Chase Utley: ‘I’ll never forget’ ovations from Phillies fans

Chase Utley - never one to show his emotions - wiped his cleats in the batter's box Tuesday night as Citizens Bank Park started to become unglued.

Perhaps the adulation would cease as Utley played with the dirt near home plate. It instead grew louder because the majority of the 28,118 fans did not come to see a baseball game in the midst of the city's heat wave. They came to see Utley.

Utley stepped from home plate to lead off the game, removed his blue Dodgers helmet, and waved the crowd. He pounded his fist to his heart as the left-field scoreboard said, "Welcome Back Chase." The Phillies players stopped their warm-ups to clap. Even pitcher Vince Velasquez touched the brim of his cap.

The ovation lasted 74 seconds. It had been 363 days since Utley left Philadelphia and was traded to Los Angeles. At last, he was back.

"It was completely overwhelming. The standing ovation for my first at-bat was something that I'll never forget," Utley said. "It was truly special. It really shows how passionate and how great the Philadelphia fan base is. It was probably one of the most nervous at-bats that I've ever had, at any level. I was glad to get that first at-bat over with."

Utley finished 2 for 4 with a pair of home runs, including a grand slam. Each home run was capped with a curtain call, as the fans cheered until Utley peeked out of the visiting dugout and tipped his helmet.

Before ending that first at-bat with a strikeout, Utley walked past catcher Cameron Rupp, who had moved away from home plate in order to delay the game and allow the fans to salute. Utley hollered, "Let's go," before stepping into the batter's box.

"I'm like, 'All right.' Then it got louder," Rupp said. "That's as good as it gets. A guy who has done so much for this organization, he's done everything you can possibly imagine for this place. He deserved every bit of it. Absolutely. That was pretty special to be a part of, even though he's on the other team."

It was the third standing ovation Utley received in roughly 15 minutes. The fans down the third-base line stood and cheered when he left his pregame routine to sign autographs. Fans handed him baseballs and cards, snapping selfies with Utley after he inked his name. A kid perched on his father's shoulders reached out a 2008 World Series hat. Another fan held a sign, thanking Utley "for being the man."

A few minutes later, public address announcer Dan Baker read the visiting team's starting lineup and added a bit of fervor when he called Utley's name. The fans again stood and cheered. The biggest roar — perhaps the loudest heard this season at the ballpark — came a bit later when Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" played as Utley walked to the plate.

"I should be thanking them," Utley said. "They motivated us, they kind of pushed us in the right direction, and I'm a true believer that the fans made us better players individually and gave us a chance to win on a daily basis."

The Dodgers flew into Philadelphia late Monday night, giving Utley limited time to revisit his old haunts. He and his wife will soon be putting their Center City apartment on the market and Utley joked that someone should seek him out if he is looking for a place downtown.

It was weird, Utley said, to walk past the home clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon. He instead walked another three minutes to the visitors clubhouse, which he said he spent a combined 10 minutes in during the 12 years he worked at Citizens Bank Park.

When Utley took the field for batting practice, the stadium's speakers blared Wiz Khalifa's song "See You Again," which begins with the line "It's been a long day without you my friend, and I'll tell you all about it when I see you again." It was the start of what Utley hoped would be an "exciting night."

Utley went hitless in his first two at-bats before homering in the fifth inning. His emotions were tucked away as he sprinted around the bases, moving almost as fast as the ball he rocketed to center field. The fans once again stood and cheered. Their roar did not cease until Utley — a visiting player — came to the dugout's top step and tipped his helmet. After all, he was the reason they were there.