Hey, Teach! Chase Utley weighs in on quarantine, playing ball with no fans in seats


The greatest second baseman in Phillies history is now a math teacher.

Or at least he was for a while.

Over the past couple of weeks, Chase Utley's son, Ben, has been taking his school lessons with his regular second-grade teachers and classmates via Zoom video. But before that, Ben and younger brother Max were being tutored by mom and dad at home during the coronavirus quarantine.

"I was essentially the head of the math department," Utley said with a laugh from his Los Angeles area home Thursday. "I ran some math lessons for the boys, which was actually fun, and Jen was doing the reading and writing. We tag-teamed 'em a little and got through it. But it's definitely better now that Ben has got the video going.

"He has class from 8:45 in the morning till 1 o'clock every day with a lunch break and a snack break. I do go in and check on him, and as soon as I walk in, he shushes me out of the room."

Sounds like Ben has his dad's intensity. Chase didn't like to be bugged when he was focused on work, either.

Utley played with the Phillies from 2003 to 2015 and finished his career with the Dodgers in 2018. Nowadays, when he's not teaching math, he does some consulting in the Dodgers' front office and a little in-studio work during some of the team's TV broadcasts. He is still involved in baseball and is paying close attention to how the coronavirus health crisis has impacted the game and whether there will actually be a season in 2020.

If there's a season, it will be shorter than the usual 162 games, and there may be changes — perhaps seven-inning doubleheaders or the DH in both leagues — to speed up play.

Whatever it takes, the old-school Utley is for it in this unprecedented time.

"I'm a traditionalist and I don't love change," he said. "I like the way that I always grew up playing baseball. But under the circumstances, I understand that there possibly needs to be adjustments if we want to watch baseball being played this year. From that standpoint, if I was still a player, I would be open for some change just to speed the games up, to get as many games in as possible because I think everyone benefits from the more games being played. 

"I would be open to some change. Now, how much? That really depends on what's being thrown out there. I'm not really privy to those conversations anymore now that I'm a math teacher."

One of the proposals being discussed by MLB is playing all games at spring training sites in Arizona. That would require quarantining all players in the Phoenix area for several months. Some players, like Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler, have already voiced their objections to this plan because it would keep them away from loved ones for a long period of time.

Utley was asked if he believed the Arizona plan could really work.

"That's a good question," he said. "I think it really all depends on how the players feel, also how involved their families can be. I think the most difficult challenge would be to expect a veteran player who has two kids and expect them not to see their wife or kids for four or five months. I think that would be difficult to do.

"But as of now — and I'm reading the same things you're reading — there's not a great number of alternatives. I know they're doing their best to come up with different options, different game plans, trying to protect the players and staff as much as possible.

"I think we all want to see baseball being played this year. It's going to look probably a little bit different, as we all know. We're going to have to adjust and hopefully, that's just for this year. I do think, though, they'll figure something out. What that will be, I don't know. It will be a challenge in Arizona, but I haven't heard of any better options assuming we all want to see baseball being played this year."

Every plan being discussed has a consideration for social distancing. That means baseball with no fans in the stands. Utley was a Phillie when the team played in front of 257 straight sellout crowds from July 2009 to August 2012. He played three-plus seasons in Dodger Stadium, which yearly boasts some of the largest and liveliest crowds in the majors. Utley knows all about the booster shot of energy that a crowd can give a player and a team. What would it be like to play baseball with no fans in the seats?

"I think at first it will (have an effect on players)," he said. "There's no doubt. Because part of what is exciting about major-league games is the fan interaction and the amount of noise and just the excitement, the adrenaline that that creates. So, yes, I think it'll be definitely an adjustment. Until the guys experience it, they probably don't know what they're getting into. But I think the guys that are able to focus and draw that extra adrenaline that you need to perform at that high level without the fans, those guys will succeed more than the guys that aren't."

Utley said he and his family were safe and doing well. Some employees of major league clubs have been tested for coronavirus antibodies as part of a nationwide study, but Utley has not.

"We feel lucky where it hasn't exploded like it did in New York," he said. "I think the East Coast is getting hammered a little bit more than we are here. We've been in quarantine now for, what, a month. It's an interesting, challenging time, but we're all in it. Hopefully, we can get past it and learn from the experience, just the way to attack it if this ever happens again."

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