Chase Utley, the Philadelphia Phillies’ All-Star second baseman, wowed MLB fans with his 35-game hitting streak in 2006. Yet somehow that’s not the most impressive element of Utley’s game, or of his persona. We hit up number 26 with 26 questions to learn more about one of baseball’s hardest-hitting, toughest-playing second basemen.
1. Beyond baseball, how would you describe yourself?
Chase Utley: Good question. I don’t even know. I’m pretty laid back—I don’t get too upset about much. And when I do something, I like to do it right. My dad always told me, “If you’re going to spend your time doing something, you might as well do it right.”
2. What is your favorite activity off the field?
CU: During the season, I just try to relax with the time we have off. During the off-season, I golf; I just started taking it up. I’ve played for the past three or four years, so I try to improve in that. It’s happening slowly but surely.
3. What’s your handicap?
CU: At the end of last off-season, it was around 12. But since I haven’t played in awhile, that’s much better than it probably is now.
4. Can you drive the ball a mile?
CU: No, not really. I don’t do anything in particular really well. I try to get better at everything.
5. Do you listen to a lot of music?
CU: I have an iPod that my fiancée put a few songs on for me. But whatever people want to listen to is fine with me. Actually, I am not a big country fan—so anything besides that.
6. Are you a big video gamer?
CU: Not now, but I used to play a lot of video games in college and the minor leagues. Tiger Woods is a game I played a lot, but I got away from it.
7. Are you into clothes and fashion?
CU: I like to look nice, but I don’t really wear a specific brand. I wear a lot of jeans—you can never have enough pairs of jeans.
8. Your first hit as a starter was a grand slam. Talk about that experience.
CU: It was kind of surreal. I didn’t hit the ball very well to be honest with you, and I didn’t think it was going to be a home run. Out of the batter’s box, I ran hard, because I didn’t think it was going to make it. And after the ball went over the fence, for some reason I continued running at that same pace all the way around the bases. I got a lot of grief from my teammates for that.
9. Where does your on-the-field hustle come from?
CU: Everyone has always told me to play hard. It’s all I can remember, so I’ve always played the game hard—since Little League.
10. How does your hustle affect your game?
CU: Playing hard makes things happen and keeps the other team on their toes. It makes a routine grounder not so routine when you know the guy is running hard. As a second baseman, I know I can take my time if a guy isn’t running hard. But if he’s hustling down the line, I have to be quicker, which means I need to be more careful not to make mistakes.
11. Did you do anything in Little League or high school that made people think, “This kid could really go somewhere?”
CU: Senior year is when I developed, and people started to recognize I was halfway decent. I hit over .500 with 12 homers. We played most of our games at Long Beach State, and that field is huge—not a normal high school field. It’s bigger than our stadium here in Philadelphia. Hitting home runs out of there was not something a lot of guys did.
12. Did you model your game or hitting style after any particular player?
CU: In high school, I opened my hands and held my bat higher to be like Jim Thome. I’d see him hit home runs on SportsCenter every morning. I figured, “Hey, if he can do it, why can’t I?”
13. You got to play with Thome on the Phillies. What was that like?
CU: Awesome. He’s one of the nicest guys in the world; nobody can say anything bad about him.
14. Any memorable experiences from college or the minors you can share?
CU: The most memorable would have to be from college. We just lost a game to Cal at Cal. Our coach, Barry Ellis, was not a happy camper, so he made us run for about an hour and a half right after the game. We ran around the field, dove in the grass—did a bunch of stuff. From there, we just jumped on the bus and drove back from Berkeley to Los Angeles, no shower, no nothing.
15. Did his plan work—did you guys dobetter the next game?
CU: I wish I could remember.
16. How conscious of the 35-game hitting streak were you?
CU: To be honest with you, I didn’t really start thinking about it until it got close to 30 games. Early on, reporters asked me about it, but I ignored them, pretending that I couldn’t hear what they were saying. They understood where I was coming from, so I stayed with the same approach. I said that I wouldn’t address the streak itself, which helped in the long run. The other thing, I didn’t want the streak to affect my approach at the plate. I didn’t want to change anything just to get a hit. I had the same approach every day—to win the game.
17. Do you have any superstitions when things are going well?
CU: When things are going in my favor, I don’t change too many things. I wear the same batting gloves and helmet, and I use the same bat until it breaks, but I don’t do anything really quirky. I don’t put one sock on and say something strange every day.
18. Did you follow those superstitions throughout your streak?
CU: I wore the same helmet and the same spikes, but I broke a few bats and went through a bunch of different batting gloves. It was so hot that they’d get sweaty and slime up on me. But I kept the same helmet throughout, so that’s good.
19. What do you change if things aren’t going well?
CU: When things are going badly, it’s never my fault. It is always something else’s fault—like the helmet’s. The helmet gets abused if I am doing bad.
20. How many do you think you go through in a season?
CU: I don’t know, more than I should. Probably not double digits, but close to it. But it’s not something you should do in high school or college.
21. Do you have a special routine before games?
CU: Yeah. I always go to the stadium pretty early. I go to the clubhouse and do some exercises and stretches to loosen up. I will also watch film of a pitcher to see if I can find anything about his tendencies. Then I’ll do a little tee work before our batting practice at 3:30. That’s pretty much it.
22. Besides Philly, do you have a favorite place to play?
CU: My favorite city just to visit is probably Chicago; it has a cool older stadium. Fenway is a pretty cool stadium, too. Both Wrigley and Fenway are cool since they are so old-school, with so much tradition.
23. So you are a fan of inter-league play?
CU: I am a big fan of it. You get to visit other stadiums, which I think is great.
24. What team has the toughest crowd to play in front of?
CU: Not many are too tough, but I would say the Mets’ fans, just because the Mets are such a big rival to us. Our fans can be tough on us though.
25. Name a pitcher from the past you’d like to face.
CU: Nolan Ryan—just to see what it would be like. He is one of the greatest pitchers ever, so it would be great to match up against him.
26. What about a great hitter of the past?
CU: I would have loved to see Mickey Mantle play in person. People say unbelievable things about him. Babe Ruth, obviously, would be pretty good to see, too.