Utley is back with the Phils ... kind of

January 15th, 2023

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is back with the Phillies.

Well, kind of. Utley will be in red pinstripes at Phillies Phantasy Camp beginning Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla. It will be his first time in uniform since the Phillies traded him to the Dodgers on Aug. 19, 2015. Utley played in Los Angeles from 2015-18. He still has ties with the Dodgers, which is not a surprise. He lived in L.A. until last year, when he (and his family) moved temporarily to London to be an MLB ambassador. And the Dodgers absolutely love him. They thought he provided so much value to the organization that they signed him to a $2 million contract in 2018, spreading his salary over two years because it kept them under the luxury tax.

The Dodgers did it because they considered Utley’s presence in the clubhouse just that important and impactful.

MLB.com legend Ken Gurnick wrote at the time that Utley was “virtually idolized by teammates for his professional and gritty approach.”

Following the end of his playing career, Utley was named special assistant to Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman in 2019.

It is unclear when Utley’s commitments with the Dodgers will expire -- if they have not already -- but whenever that happens, the Phillies should be on the phone with him. He is a potential Hall of Famer who embodies everything the Phillies’ front office wants to be: a blend of old-school and new-school baseball. The Dodgers are an analytics-heavy organization, and Utley was a believer. But anyone who watched him play, or who witnessed him spend hours studying pitchers in the video room at Citizens Bank Park and Dodger Stadium, knows he was a ridiculously hard-nosed player and a tireless worker.

One Phillies superstar said last spring that he would love to see Utley more involved with the team.

Perhaps Utley’s appearance at Phantasy Camp is the first step.

Utley has been in Philadelphia since his playing career ended -- for team reunions, a retirement ceremony in 2019 and to throw out a ceremonial first pitch with Jimmy Rollins before Game 4 of the 2022 World Series. But getting Utley more seriously involved is something John Middleton and Co. should pursue.

The Phillies got the ball rolling with Phantasy Camp at the World Series.

“We’ve had him as one our must-haves to join us since 2018,” said Michael Rouse, who is the CEO of ESF, which runs Phillies Phantasy Camp.

Utley knew about the camp long before the Phillies approached him. A few Hollywood heavyweights who grew up in Philly have come to know Utley over the years. They have been coming to camp for the past decade, and they have been urging Utley to come. So have former teammates. This year, for example, Jayson Werth, Matt Stairs, Scott Eyre, J.C. Romero and Chris Coste will be there.

So will Charlie Manuel, among others.

“A lot of people have had the bug in his ear about how fun this is,” Rouse said.

Maybe Utley has so much fun in Clearwater, he flies back to London and thinks about spending more time in Philly and Clearwater in the future.

At the very least, the Phillies need to keep asking him.