Phillies fans cheered Chase Utley, and there’s nothing 'soft' about it

Phillies fans cheered Chase Utley, and there’s nothing 'soft' about it

As anyone still watching this Phillies season in mid-August knows, Chase Utley returned to Philadelphia this week for the first time since his trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the first game of the series, Tuesday night, Utley was introduced to cheers and a standing ovation as his familiar music, Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, played over the PA system

And throughout the night, the fans kept cheering. They cheered after he hit a solo home run in the 5th inning -- even giving him a curtain call -- and again in the 7th when he hit a grand slam. Utley got another ovation Wednesday, when he went 0-for-5; he was cheered again during the final game of the series Thursday. 

These nice moments, which made national news, have had a predictable backlash. Some in town, especially on both local sports radio stations and on Twitter, aren’t too happy with the fans for continuing to cheer an opposing player, especially during a lopsided loss. And the word a lot of them are using is “soft.” 

This is ridiculous. It’s the sort of armchair tough guy nonsense way too present in sports discourse these days, that takes macho posturing to the logical extreme of near-nihilism. Like 95 percent of arguments that involve one adult referring to another as “soft,” it’s embarrassing buffoonery. "Must not cheer all-time great local athlete! Must HATE instead!"

If you believe that it was wrong to cheer Chase Utley this week in Philadelphia, let me ask you this: What is sports fandom for you? Why do you go to games, why do you watch on TV?  Does it bring you joy or entertainment? Or is being a fan just a never-ending battery of masculinity/"violation" tests, conducted at the behest of no one in particular? 

Suppose the fans at Citizen’s Bank Park this week had risen as one, booed Utley or even given him an indifferent or less-than-enthusiastic reception. What would that have accomplished? Do you think it would cement Philadelphia sports fans once and for all as tough, and principled, and therefore intimidate opposing teams who come through town? Or would it set off another round of national news stories about just how terrible Philly fans are? I think we all know it’s the latter. 

In fact, I’d say that if anything, what actually happened (warm cheers for Utley) vs. what didn’t (three days of boos and maybe worse) shows that maybe the reality of the Philadelphia fan base is better than its reputation. 

And not only that, but it’s not even the first time a former Phillie has been applauded for hitting a home run for the visiting team at Citizen’s Bank Park. Jim Thome was cheered in June 2010, when he homered against the Phillies while playing for the Minnesota Twins. It says a lot about Thome that when he returned to Minnesota as a Phillie in 2012 and homered at Target Field, the fans there cheered him, too. 

Indeed, the superstar athlete who formerly played in Philly coming through town with his new team is a familiar site to most local fans. There was Barkley with the Suns, Lindros with the Rangers, Iverson with the Nuggets, T.O. with the Cowboys, Dawkins with the Broncos and McNabb with the Redskins. But what all of those players have in common is that none of them won championships here and therefore departed town with at least some degree of disappointment. Those circumstances don’t apply to Utley, a key part in the Phillies’ long run of a success that included the 2008 championship. 

So why not cheer Utley? It’s not like he left on bad terms, forced his way out of town or exhibited any Jonathan Papelbon-like behavior. 

Sure, there were always a lot of strange mini-controversies involving Utley throughout his time with the Phillies. He was accused at various times of playing hurt, of not playing hurt, and of not being forthright with the team and/or media about injuries. Some reporters called him prickly and decried the lack of good quotes. Much like Derek Jeter in New York, Utley played for a very long time in one city without ever really establishing a distinct public persona or providing quippy sound bites. The one memorable thing he ever said, the “World F***ing Champions” proclamation during the 2008 championship rally, drew condemnations, although it also ended up on T-shirts. 

But that’s the key: They did win that world (f***ing) championship. Utley, probably for the rest of his life, will return to Philadelphia on each big anniversary of the 2008 title, and when he does he’ll never have to pay for his drinks. He’s a shoo-in to retire as a Phillie, for Wall of Fame induction and for retirement of No. 26, and while he’s got only an outside shot at the Hall of Fame, if Utley enters Cooperstown it’ll probably be with a Phillies cap on his plaque. 

Chase Utley was a beloved player in Philadelphia and a major part of some of the most important moments in franchise history. He provided a whole lot of lifelong memories to a pretty large generation of fans, even my young sons who weren’t born yet in ’08 but still wear Utley shirts. Therefore, he absolutely deserved every one of those ovations and curtain calls, and that moment was obviously worth the hurt feelings of those holding up meaningless codes and unwritten rules. Anyone who doesn’t see that, I have to question if they understand what sports is even about. 

Follow Stephen Silver on Twitter at @StephenSilver 

Ilya Bryzgalov warns Flyers fans to bring speedos to Heinz Field

Ilya Bryzgalov warns Flyers fans to bring speedos to Heinz Field

The last time the Flyers were in an outdoor game, Ilya Bryzgalov was drinking from a thermos on the bench while Sergei Bobrovsky started against the Rangers five years ago.

Fast forward to Saturday night. Bryzgalov is out of the NHL, Bobrovsky has himself in the conversation for his second Vezina Trophy in Columbus, and the Flyers face off against the  Penguins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in a Stadium Series game … weather permitting.

The weather is expected to cooperate tonight, though. The forecast called for rain today and temperatures in the 50s, but it hasn't rained much. The temperature is expected to drop into the 40s and 30s, and may even hit a lot of 28, according to Weather.com.

Don't tell Bryzgalov that. "Bryz" took to Twitter to offer advice for Flyers and Penguins fans attending the Stadium Series match tonight.

You don't need no stinkin' thermos.

If you're not following Bryzgalov on Twitter, you should click that follow button now. He's always an entertaining follow.

The Sixers are the perfect distraction from the Sixers

The Sixers are the perfect distraction from the Sixers

There's your Philadelphia 76ers season in a nutshell, huh? Nerlens Noel gets traded for an all-lemon pack of Starbursts, Ben Simmons' right foot is still apparently stuck in a beartrap, Joel Embiid can't get himself dismissed from the nurse's office, and Jahlil Okafor is forced back into +1 status after everyone else passed on going to the concert with Bryan Colangelo -- and the Ballers still go out and beat one of the best teams in the East in their first game back from the All-Star break. Nearly everything about the Sixers is depressing right now, except for the team themselves. They're cool. 

Kudos to Brett Brown, man. The team is playing with such fluency and energy right now that it can withstand some losses in personnel without the drop-off being particularly dramatic -- at least for the moment. Replacing Embiid and Noel with Okafor and Holmes for as long as we'll have to do it will catch up with us in time, but for now, all you can do is marvel at the pace, cohesion and (with some mildly glaring moments of exception) discipline that Brown has the guys playing at the moment. I doubt there are five coaches in the league having a more impressive season than him right now. 

But the players were pretty good in this one, too. Dario Saric had 20-11-4 in his first start in three weeks, continuing his unlikely Rookie of the Year surge with his third-straight double-double and fourth game of 20-plus in his last six games. The All-Star Break hasn't cooled Robert Covington's hot hand, as the shooter went 5-9 from deep last night and is now 17-31 on threes over his last four games, also posting a 20-10 night with his 25 points and 11 boards. (Also three assists and four steals, whatever.) Richaun Holmes dunked over some people and reminded a handful of fans why they've gotten way too excited about him at various points earlier in the year. Good times were had by all. 

Games like last night's also just remind you how marginal the difference between winning and losing is. As they've been wont to do forever, the Sixers blew their considerable lead to the Wizards late in this one, which would've undoubtedly resulted in a tragic loss in years past. But these days, the leads are a little bigger going into the Sixers' fourth-quarter tailspins, and their defense is just a little tighter on critical possessions, and that's the difference between losing on a Bradley Beal buzzer-beater and hitting just enough free throws to squeak out a mildly secure 120-112 victory. 

Anyway, after an impossibly discouraging week of Sixers happenings, it turns out some actual Sixers basketball is just what we needed. Hopefully their level of play will continue to get better as news of their off-court developments invariably keeps getting worse .