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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 

Kennett Square's Jack Regenye makes catch-of-the-year at Junior League World Series

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USA Today Images

Kennett Square's Jack Regenye makes catch-of-the-year at Junior League World Series

Sunday gave us the catch-of-the-year. And it didn't come from MLB, or the minors, but from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania's Jack Regenye in the Junior League World Series.

Just take a look at this. Then watch it again and again, trying to figure out how this is possible. 

After being initially ruled an out, the umps reversed the call, calling it a home run. After more deliberation, it was finally ruled an out because rules be damned, when a catch is that good, you have to count it.

Regenye's Junior League team (ages 13-14) went on to lose to Chinese Taipei, 12-1. 

With Odubel Herrera on the DL, maybe the Phils should give Regenye a call.

Eagles' latest Achilles heel emerges in preseason

Eagles' latest Achilles heel emerges in preseason

Right when the Eagles get finished plugging one potential hole, another springs up.

For months, cornerback was considered by far the greatest weakness on the Eagles' roster, but Howie Roseman appears to have taken care of that with the trade for Ronald Darby. Now, all of a sudden, the Eagles' secondary has the potential to be a strength in 2017.

Yet, just as the plan at corner is beginning to take shape, another concern is emerging halfway through the preseason, at a position many fans thought Roseman solidified in May. Running back looks like it could quickly become a serious problem for the Eagles if it hasn’t reached that point already.

It’s only preseason, and the offensive line hasn’t done him any favors, but LeGarrette Blount has nine carries for 17 yards with a fumble in two games. Fifth-round draft pick Donnel Pumphrey – who the coaching staff seemed enamored with this spring — has 14 total touches for 34 yards. After a strong start at training camp, Wendell Smallwood has yet to play in an exhibition game due to a hamstring injury. And by now, everybody is aware 34-year-old Darren Sproles isn’t an every-down back.

The best any running back has looked in exhibition games is undrafted rookie Corey Clement, by far. Whether that’s a testament to his development or a commentary on the state of the backfield is a matter of perspective.

Regardless, you could’ve seen this mess coming from a mile away.

The Blount signing was met with tremendous enthusiasm when it really should’ve been met with tremendous skepticism. Though he rushed for 1,161 yards and led the NFL with 18 touchdowns in 2016, Blount averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, sat by in free agency as the Patriots moved to replace him, and turns 31 in December. He’s never been a threat as a receiver, and even his gaudy numbers last season with the Super Bowl champions were an outlier compared to the rest of his career.

The reality is Blount is not a mortal lock to make the Eagles' roster. He likely will, because he still has value in short yardage and at the goal line, and most of all, because the competition hasn’t made enough of a push. However, releasing Blount would only cost the Eagles $400,000 against the salary cap, according to OverTheCap.com, while his age and the limitations of his skill set are worth reiterating.

The question is what then?

While the Eagles have toyed with getting Pumphrey and Sproles on the field at the same time, projections as to how prevalent those designer packages would be always felt ambitious as well. Listed at 5-foot-9, 176 pounds, Pumphrey has not looked like an NFL-ready player through two games. Even if he is ready to contribute, that is not an offense designed with running the football in mind.

The Eagles’ ability to let Blount go would seem to hinge almost solely on Smallwood. Of course, it was an unwillingness to rely on a second-year player with 83 touches that caused the club to seek veteran help in the first place.

Smallwood is not an unimpressive prospect. A fifth-round draft pick from West Virginia a year ago, Smallwood has the size and athletic ability to handle the bulk of the work. He was running with authority in camp. He simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy, which is his biggest shortcoming at this point, aside from inexperience. It’s impossible to tell whether Smallwood is in line to finish with the most touches in this backfield (regardless of Blount’s presence) or if he’s fighting for his job.

Clement is the bright spot in all of this and arrives as a more polished pass protector than Smallwood was as a rookie. Seeing as inexperience was one of the primary reasons the Eagles weren’t willing to entrust Smallwood as the primary ball carrier, it’s difficult to imagine Clement could be the guy the in September.

Again, some of the culpability for Blount’s struggles falls on the offensive line. Some. Blount’s last season in New England was far from the norm, and for most of his eight-year career, he’s been purely a situational player. Even under optimal circumstances, expecting him to recreate last season’s numbers, or come close, never made much sense.

And while it would be easy to chalk up the pitiful ground attack as a symptom of the preseason, the fact is these games have exposed a problem that’s been lurking beneath the surface. Blount is old and not an ideal fit for the Eagles' offense. Pumphrey is an undersized rookie. Sproles is Sproles. Smallwood is a mystery.

Up until a week ago, everybody was worried about the cornerbacks. Before that, it was the wide receivers, until the Eagles made significant investments in talent over the offseason. All along, there’s been an underrated need at running back, or at the very least, an uncertainty.

Try as he might, Roseman can’t seem to find a solution for every hole on the roster — and it’s beginning to look like running back is the spot the Eagles might spring a leak.