The Big Chase
Rain or shine, the Philadelphia Phillies are the 2008 World Series champions. Congratulations go out to all of the players, coaches, staff, Charlie Manuel, Pat Gillick, ownership, and the City of Brotherly Love.
As a Long Beach native, I am extremely happy for Chase Utley. He and my son Joe are the same age, and they played in the Long Beach Little League and Long Beach Pony League at the same time. I had the good fortune of coaching Chase for a couple of games on a youth All-Star team but had the bad fortune of coaching against him most of the time.
Chase played on the Pirates while Joe played for the Dodgers. We didn't stand a chance. As it turned out, the Dodgers didn't have anyone who went on to play Major League Baseball. The Pirates had two. Yes, two. Chase Utley and Sean Burroughs. Although Chase is better known today, it was Sean who made headlines in those days.
You may recall that Burroughs was the star of the Long Beach Little League teams that won back-to-back world championships in 1992 and 1993. He pitched two no-hitters at Williamsport in 1993, striking out 16 in each game. Sean was also the best hitter on both All-Star teams.
Burroughs was much more than a Little League phenom. He was the ninth overall pick in the 1998 draft by the San Diego Padres. Two years later, Sean won a gold medal as a member of Team USA in the Olympics Games in Sydney, Australia. He is the only player that I am aware of who has ever won a Little League Baseball World Series championship and an Olympics gold medal.
Chase was two years older than Sean and did not play on the Little League All-Star teams that won consecutive titles. But Utley was special in his own right. I shared my thoughts on Chase in the summer of 2006 after he had extended his hitting streak to 31 games.
I have a special affinity toward Utley. Chase and my son Joe played youth baseball for Long Beach Little League. Joe played on the Dodgers. Chase played for the Pirates. One of Chase's teammates was Sean Burroughs, who just may be the best Little League player ever. Joe and Chase are two years older than Sean and neither played on the LBLL All-Star teams that Burroughs spearheaded to World Championships in 1992 and 1993.
Like his former teammate Burroughs, Utley can now lay claim to being a world champion. The second baseman did his part, hitting .292/.380/.535 with 33 HR during the regular season and adding three more homers during the postseason while making a memorable and decisive defensive play in the final game of the series.
With the score knotted at three in the top of the seventh and the go-ahead run on second base, Chase ranged to his right to field a ground ball off the bat of Akinori Iwamura, pump-faked a throw to first, and made an off-balance throw to home plate to nab a surprised Jason Bartlett for the final out of the inning. It was the type of heads-up play that has distinguished Utley throughout his baseball career, from Little League to Pony League to high school to college to the minors and for the last six years in the majors.
As fate would have it, Utley and Burroughs almost faced each other in the World Series. San Diego traded Sean to Tampa Bay for Dewon Brazelton in December 2005. Unfortunately, Burroughs only played eight games for the Devil Rays and was released in August 2006. He never played another game in the big leagues.
Two months before Burroughs was released, Tampa Bay selected Evan Longoria with the third overall pick in the amateur draft. Not only were Burroughs and Longoria third basemen but both are Long Beach products – just like the 2008 World Series champion Chase Utley.