By Marlee Kelly
Pine Ridge, S.D.
TRENTON — The sun set over Arm & Hammer Park as fans anticipated the first pitch of the game. The Trenton Thunder and the Reading Fightin’ Phils were competing for second place in the Eastern League.
For the most part, it was a typical baseball game: the fans went quiet as a tribute to local veterans played on the big screen, and a young local, Victoria Paul, sang the national anthem. But on Aug. 5, the crowd was here to see something unusual.
Many of the people in the park were there to watch Chase Utley, the second baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies, who had come down from the major leagues to play for the Phils while he rehabilitated his ankle after an injury. “Chase Utley. That’s what we are here for tonight,” said Jeff Greecer, 60, who was attending the game with his wife for their 25th wedding anniversary. Utley’s presence brought something special to the game, even for those who don’t follow baseball. Jennifer Culligan, 39, is not a baseball fan, but even she was excited about watching a major league player take the field. “Chase Utley was here, so that was very exciting,” she said.
The first two hitters for the Fightin’ Phils produced a single and an out. When Utley walked onto the field, the sound of visiting Phillies fans could be heard from every corner of the ballpark. The cheering ceased as Utley walked to the plate. He gripped the bat and when the ball flew toward him, he swung. In his first at-bat, Utley faltered and saddled the Phils with a second out. The first inning ended quickly with a score of 0-0.
Fightin’ Phils left fielder Destin Hood hit the first home run of the game and put his team on the scoreboard with two runs. By the bottom of the second, the Thunder joined the Fightin’ Phils on the board, cutting their lead to 2-1. Cheers and laughter rang through the crowded ballpark throughout the third and fourth innings. In the top of the fifth, the score was still 2-1.
The energy of the crowd reached a peak during the fifth and sixth innings. The players pushed on through the humidity of the Jersey summer, and by the end of the fifth inning, the Fightin’ Phils were leading, 4-1. No runs were scored in the bottom of the sixth.
The game ended with a final score of 7-1. The Phils scored three more runs in the seventh and the ninth, ending the game in a tragic loss for the Thunder. But the night that Utley played in the minor leagues was an experience the audience would not soon forget.