The Philadelphia Inquirer Jim Salisbury column: Utley riding high – just not on his old skateboard

As a kid growing up in Southern California, Chase Utley liked to spend his free time one of two ways: Hitting baseballs or riding a skateboard. Utley's father wasn't sold on the skateboarding craze, however. "He wanted to skateboard, but I wouldn't buy him one," Dave Utley said by telephone the other day. "I saw too many broken arms."

Um, Dave, your son has a confession to make. "I had a skateboard," Chase said with a wink. "I bought it myself. I think my mom gave me the money." As much as young Chase liked skateboarding, it never compared to his love of hitting baseballs. Heard of the proverbial gym rat? Chase was a batting-cage rat.

How To Build A Skateboard Ramp

While Dad was reluctant to dig into his wallet to buy a skateboard, he was always willing support young Chase's addiction to the Lakewood Batting Cages, a facility near the family home in Long Beach. "He'd flip me a 20 and say, 'Call when you're done,' " Chase said. A couple of hours would pass. No phone call. Dave Utley would look at his wife, Terrell, and say, "He couldn't have any money left, could he?"

They'd drive over to the hitting facility and there would be Chase, serving hot dogs behind the counter or fetching balls -- anything to earn some time in the cages. "I'd help out, and the owners would turn on a machine and let me hit for a half hour," Chase said. It was time well spent. Utley blossomed into a star at Long Beach Polytechnic High and then UCLA. The Phillies selected him in the first round of the 2000 draft, and now he's a star in the major leagues. Tonight, Utley will do what major-league stars always do on the second Tuesday in July.

The Philadelphia Inquirer Jim Salisbury column: Utley riding high - just not on his old skateboard

He will play in the All-Star Game, as the National League's starting second baseman. Dave and Terrell Utley will be in Pittsburgh for what is so far the high point of their 27-year-old son's professional career. "Wouldn't miss it," Dave Utley said. "They're really excited about coming," Chase said. "It means a lot because they know how hard I've worked." Utley was elected a starter by the fans. He received 1,971,920 votes to beat out Craig Biggio by 184,022.

Some of the votes came from Mom and Dad, and there's nothing wrong with that. Dave Utley, a lawyer, laughed over the phone as he looked at the wallpaper on his computer screen. There was a picture of his wife at a Phillies-Dodgers game at Dodger Stadium, her shirt covered with punch-out chads from all-star ballots. "I heard they were stuffing the boxes pretty good," Chase said, laughing. Utley got his chance to play every day last season. 

3 Simple Tips for How to Put Grip Tape On A Skateboard

He hit .291 with 28 homers and 105 RBIs and became a fan favorite for his hard-nosed approach. He has quickly become one of the most popular pro athletes in Philadelphia. Earlier this season, the Phils had a sellout against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Milwaukee Brewers? Oh, yeah, there was an Utley bobblehead giveway that night. On Saturday night, the Phils drew a well-above-average crowd of 37,462. It was Utley T-shirt night.

Dave Utley has made enough trips to Philadelphia to understand how popular his son is in the city. But he still hasn't gotten used to it. "It's a strange experience seeing people wear your son's name on their T-shirts," he said. "It's almost an out-of-body experience. It's very flattering that people support him that much. But sometimes I can't help but think, 'This is the kid whose diapers we cleaned.'

" As a youngster, Utley may have earned free rounds in the batting cage by serving hot dogs, but as a pro, there is no hot dog in him. He's never flashy, never loud or boastful. He gives an honest, workmanlike effort, like the longshoremen his father represents. "Chase has never really liked talking about himself," Dave said. "I remember driving home from a Little League game once, and Chase was miffed about some other player bragging about himself. I remember him saying, 'He's really not that good.' I told him what someone had told me once: If you're really good at something, you don't ever have to tell people. They'll tell you."

The Philadelphia fans tell Utley every night. He's hitting .312 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs and is among the team leaders in standing ovations. Dave Utley had heard about the tough East Coast fan and never doubted his son could handle the pressure. "I think he's well-equipped for the East Coast because he takes pride in his game," he said.

"Chase wants to perform at the highest level he can and win. Because of that, he understands the seemingly tougher fan mentality on the East Coast, and he's OK with it." While some major-leaguers don't run out every ground ball, Utley sprints home to first every time, almost as if he's being chased by the cops. See more:

They call it playing the game right. Utley learned it from his first coach, a neighbor named Denny Mayfield who Dave Utley said was "intense, but always in a positive way." Dave Utley said his son was also lucky to have been coached in Little League by Jeff Burroughs, the 1974 American League MVP who has had a hand in the development of a number of Long Beach-area stars.

"Whatever playing the game right is, Chase does it," Dave Utley said. "He doesn't mail it in. I'm as proud of the way he plays as the success he's had." That success has brought Chase Utley to the All-Star Game. But Dad's still not buying him a skateboard