For Utley, rehab draws crowds

By Sharon Bayantemur
Brooklyn, N.Y.

TRENTON — The smell of fried food in the muggy air mingled with the crowd’s boisterousness at Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton, N.J. Everyone was waiting for the Trenton Thunder to go head-to-head with the Reading Fightin’ Phils. The $15-million major leaguer Chase Utley, a star Philadelphia Phillies infielder, was in the lineup while recuperating from a recent ankle injury. He was the main motivation for most Phillies fans to come to the Aug. 4 Double-A game.

The stadium was full of the sound of squealing children and the roar of die-hard fans. One such Phillies spectator was Jeff Greecer, 60, who was there with his wife Jane, 60, celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.

“Chase Utley. That’s what we are here for tonight,” he said. Jane Greecer loved being interviewed and said, “You guys are making this really special for us.”

Another Phillies fan, Chris Nunn, 44, who watches baseball “almost every day,” was there for a non-profit fundraiser. But most importantly, he said, he was there to see Utley, who smacked balls away from him like they were on fire.

Even individuals like Jennifer Culligan, 39, who are not baseball fans, felt compelled to watch Utley play.

“I usually just watch UFC,” she said. Culligan had never been to the stadium before. “I was just totally excited Chase Utley was here.”

It was difficult finding Thunder fans because everyone was enamored of Utley. One of them, Aaron Bartuska, 17, said he was rooting for Reading “just tonight, because of Chase Utley.” Bartuska works at the stadium, wearing a giant hat in the shape of a hotdog, even though all he sells are drinks like Coca Cola and beer. The hat, he acknowledged, has its pros and cons. “Occasionally we get made fun of, but we also get a lot of 12-year-old girls asking to take pictures with us. It’s pretty cool.”

Despite the Thunder’s home-field advantage, the Fightin’ Phils beat them, 7-1, with the help of Utley, who went 1-for-3 and scored two runs.

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