ATLANTA – The clubhouse workers had just packed up all of the laptops and loaded them on the truck bound for the airport. Meanwhile, the giant TV pushed just off the center of the room at Turner Field was snapped off so the only noise coming from the visitors’ room at Turner Field emanated from players packing up their gear and water trickling out of the showers.
But the important elements were that the laptops were packed away and the eerie silence that shrouds the room after a lost baseball game. Without those laptops, Chase Utley didn’t know what to do with himself. How could he study game video into the early hours of the morning without those laptops?
So still dressed in his post-game workout gear, Utley was forced to move from the folding table that held the bank of computers to the overstuffed couches arranged around the television in the middle of the room. It was there he sat quietly and stared straight ahead into nothing.
The TV was off.
No music played.
The shower was waiting and a bus ride to the airport quickly approaching but he still didn’t budge.
He just stared straight ahead.
Utley got a hit and barreled into catcher Brian McCann in order to score the Phillies’ first run on Thursday night in one of those plays that kind of personifies the way the All-Star second baseman plays the game. Arriving at the plate at the exact moment as the throw from the outfield, Utley chose to take home plate by force rather than finesse his way around the catcher with a hook slide of sorts. Focused on catching the ball, McCann was left wide open to Utley’s assault as he was forcefully separated from the ball.
Call it one the hard way.
Still, not even Utley’s forced grit could will the Phillies to a much-needed victory. Perhaps the 14th loss in the last 18 games is the reason why Utley sat still and stared straight ahead.
Where are those damn laptops!?
“Times like this can build character for a team,” he said a good 45-minutes later as he dressed for the trip home. “That's the way I look at it.”
If anyone knew how to solve the losing ways and malaise engulfing the baseball team it was Utley. Chances are he wasn’t merely sitting there like David Puddy from that Seinfeld episode where Elaine Benes’ boyfriend wiled away the time on a flight simply staring out into the middle distance.
Remember that one?
Elaine: Do you want something to read?
Elaine: Are you going to sleep?
Elaine: Are you just going to sit there and stare?
Puddy: Yeah, that’s right.
But Utley isn’t going to prod his teammates to follow his lead by calling them out to the press. Instead he’ll reinforce the positive with all the normal clichés, though privately – just like with manager Charlie Manuel – the pile of losses are killing him.
“I feel like we're coming to the park prepared,” Utley said. “We obviously haven’t been playing that well, but we haven't seen a change in our attitude for the negative. It’s obviously a rough stretch. We're definitely not making any excuses, but we do need to start playing better in all parts of the ball: offensively, defensively. We need to pitch better. That's the bottom line. How do you do that? You stay motivated. You stay positive.”
That’s what Utley does. He shows up early and stares at those laptops looking for any tiny bit of minutia or insight that the naked eye cannot catch. Then he’ll take batting practice until the calluses on his hands get calloused.
After the game he might take more batting practice or workout, but mostly he stares into those laptops watching the ballgame he just played until his eyes are ringed with bleary red tiredness. Maybe then he’ll go home and to do it all over again the next day.
“You have to come to the field every day to prepare and prepare to win,” he said.
Sometimes it isn’t as easy as it sounds.