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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Chase Utley Is A Hero (In My House)

There's nothing like childlike enthusiasm, and I've blogged here and here about my kids and baseball. My son's first game at a Major League park is indelibly etched in my memory, as is the first time I took my daughter to a game at Citizens Bank Park and the weekend when she handwrote three letters to three different Phillies, asking each to autograph a baseball card or a picture from a magazine that she had enclosed. She even addressed her own return envelopes.

I warned her not to expect much, that ballplayers are very busy people, that they get lots of mail, and that their schedules are such that they don't have much free time. Anything, of course, to lower expectations to a reasonable level. Put simply, I told her not to be terribly disappointed if she didn't get any returns. ("But how could they at least not return my baseball cards," she asked). How do you provide a real-world answer to someone who has that type of moral high ground? You can't.

It's been fun to watch my daughter become a baseball fan. She hadn't shown much interest in the game up until this year, but she's strong and tall and can swat a softball after having gone half a year without swinging a bat. She watched me watch the Phillies down their home stretch, saw David Bell hit an improbable grand slam on TV to help win a game, watched Chase Utley leg out a triple in her only trip to Citizens Bank Park, marveled when I explained Jimmy Rollins' hitting streak to her. In other words, she was a sponge for information about the national pastime.

I don't know what prompted her to want to send away for autographs, but I suppose it's because it gets harder and harder to meet players in person and talk with them, something, I think, after shedding initial shyness every kid would want to do. In a world where it's hard to talk to a live person when trying to figure out your utility bill or phone bill, in a world where people get a sense that their access to important things in their life is getting more limited, people want to be able to get something tangible, to relate more to their teams. That might be why so many grown men where jerseys of their hometown football teams to home games. That is why kids line up for autographs, because it's not as though they can stop a player on the street and ask about how he became great at what he does.

Years ago, things were different. A family acquaintance used to call The Ben Franklin Hotel, which was located at 9th and Chestnut Streets, and talk to Ted Williams when the Red Sox were in town to play the Philadelphia A's. The acquaintance was a teenager then, and Williams was such an iconoclast that he would hang out with those who sought him out. My dad lived in a neighborhood where Robin Roberts, the would be Hall of Fame pitcher for the Phillies, lived close by. Del Ennis went to the same high school that my mother did, and, well, the gap between ballplayers and their incomes wasn't then what it is today. True, they did enjoy some degree of adulation, but they were closer to the fans, the country had fewer people (by about half of what it has today), and even if it had half as many Major Leaguers then, there was a tangibility that's lacking today.

So last weekend, when I was packing for a trip, I heard my wife tell the kids that she was going outside to get the mail. It was an awful, rainy day, and everyone was stuck in the house because there was no chance to ride a bike, kick a soccer ball, or do the variety of stuff we do on weekends (note, despite our affinity for sports, we do not sit around watching games all that much). Then I heard some shouting.

"Daddy, Daddy," I heard, and within about fifteen seconds the shouting got closer to me. "Daddy, daddy, guess what?" My daughter is a very pleasant, collected kid, and I could have guessed what, but I wanted her to tell me.

"I got something back in the mail from one of the Phillies. I can't believe it. I got something back." As predicted, the smile on her face could have lit up a foggy valley on a moonless night. She took the time to send the letters, and she got a response! Quickly, too.

So she and I went downstairs and looked at the envelope. There is was, with no return address, addressed to her in her own writing. She opened it carefully, and deep down I was hoping that it wasn't a blowoff, a simple return of her letter and the item she sent to be autographed. The letters were cute, telling the player that she was eight, in third grade, and a fan. Yes, there was one more hurdle to go.

She opened the letter slowly, and out came a four by six card of Chase Utley, turning a double play, signed by him, with his statistics on the back. The article we sent, from ESPN The Magazine, was returned. Accompanying the card was a form letter apologizing that he could not write back personally, but that he hoped that the recipient would appreciate the signed card.

Did she ever! She looked at it and held it, shared it with my wife and me, and carefully showed it to her kindergarten-aged brother, who was envious that she got something special and he did not. After looking at it for a while, she put it in a hard cardboard folder, to keep it for posterity.

Chase Utley made her day.

And has a fan forever.

I know that Chase Utley won't read this. It's bad enough at times dealing with the Philadelphia press (which already, after the Eagles' loss to the Cowboys, has started sliding down the perilous path toward writing off the team's Super Bowl chances for this season), so I doubt that he'd have much time for bloggers. But if anyone who has the ear of a professional athlete reads this, please tell him or her how much it means to a little kid to get a piece of mail answered.

True, there are some brats who will brag incessantly about how many cards or autographs they have, and I'm sure there are some who write at the request of those who will sell a signed card on e-Bay. But for the budding future fan, the smiles that responses to letters bring are worth much more than the cards themselves can possibly be sold anywhere.

Writing pad -- $1.29
Envelopes -- $1.29
Stamp -- $0.37
Baseball card -- $0.50

Signed card from Chase Utley in response: Priceless.


Blogger Amateur said...

A nice story, and nicely written.

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thats so sweet, what was the address that your daughter wrote to?

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah that is a good story but it would have been better if you were a fan of his before he turned pro. i'm glad to say i am, the pacific 10 kicks ass maybe you guys on the east coast should pay more attention. but my team is asu. GO SUN DEVILS!!

12:10 AM  
Anonymous Mary Kay wishes her last name was Utley said...

Awww that is soo sweet. I am so jealous of your daughter! Chase is definatley my favorite player on the Phillies.. and will be for a long time. Could i ask you forthe address that your daughter wrote to. That is just so cute. Chase is such a sweet guy!

7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool. I met Chase Utley a couple times. He is a real class act. Good story. Let's go Chaser!!!!!

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow that's amazing!!!! Chase is my fab. Baseball player on the face of the earth! He is the one that inspired me and making me want to be the 1st woman to play in the major leagues!!! For the Philadelphia phillies actually, it's very wired that chase and I have SOOO much in common as 2nd basemen,
Tell your daughter she is amazing for having hope in that 1 baseball player!!! She is a hero to me! Not many lil girls have the courage to write to baseball players like him!!!
Thankyou for posting this again I say this is amazing!!!

8:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is so sweet. I would like to send him a letter as well. And now i know i will get something back :) you are a very good writer.

11:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have one of those it isnt really signed though it is a photocopy

4:13 PM  

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