LOS ANGELES – One of these days or years or something, Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley simply will not get into his car at 12:30 p.m. He will not drive to the ballpark and so will not sweet-talk his body into another baseball game. He’ll stop counting the hits and the wins and the laughs with his teammates, and there also won’t be any more oh-fers. No more losses. No more getting tossed from his sleep in seat 23A somewhere over somewhere, bound for more of the only thing he ever wanted to be.
No, one of these days or years or something, Chase Utley will start counting Ben’s hits, because he’ll be there for all of them. And Max’s. Or, he’ll count bedtime stories. School plays. Guitar chords. They’ll burst into his bedroom at dawn, and they’ll be full of curiosity, full of life, like 6-year-olds and 3-year-olds are, only their first questions won’t be, “Ya win, dad?”, “Ya getta hit?”
Tossed from his sleep, then, precisely where he wants to be. One of these days. One of these years.
“What’re we doin’ today, dad?”
Father’s Days usually meant a phone call home from far away to make sure his own dad knew he was loved and appreciated. Now they’re homemade cards and slightly crooked crafts and brilliantly colored handprints meant for him, sometimes from far away, and they make him ache a little. Not in the way it aches when the boys are sick or bruised or sad, but in that happy way when his heart feels light enough to float.
It is the life he chose so many years ago, unless it chose him, and really it was probably mutual. They always were happiest together. His father told him once, “If you love what you do you never have to work a day in your life,” and one of these days, one of these years, he’ll say those same words to Ben, the quiet and thoughtful one, and to Max, a bit brasher and hardly ever more than a few steps behind Ben.
In none of this is Chase Utley different. It merely makes him a dad, wholly a dad, perfectly and imperfectly a dad, and makes him wonder if he’s doing this quite right or not, and sometimes he is sure Jennifer, his wife, should be honored on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day too.
He is 39, a little old for the game by standards other than his. So it is that as his boys come to an age of awareness, Utley himself is thinking about what could be next, about the stories he could tell to make it real for them, about finding that barrel head and living on that for as long as it’ll have you.
He could tell them what it was like to have been in his shoes. About the friends he made and the days and nights they spent together, the massive ballparks that filled and rose up around them, how in those shoes they became rich and famous, but that wasn’t the reason they were there, at least not for the best of them. He could tell them that in these shoes he did not ever quit, could not ever quit, and that in the beginning as well as the end it was enough to have tried. It was honorable to have tried. That it would have to be.
He could tell them all of that. And, probably, one day he will.
Or he could give them his shoes.
On Sunday, he will get them back, white shoes since colored in blues and greens and reds by the hands of his sons, a gift to them on Father’s Day. A gift to them all.
“My oldest is 6,” he said. “This is really the first year where he’s starting to recognize that I play baseball. I’ve envisioned having him being a part of it a little bit. It’s hard when they’re young, because they don’t really understand it. Now he’s at a point where he does and his younger brother, Max, looks up to him. I figured for Father’s Day I’d give them a pair of all white cleats and let them do whatever they wanted to with them. That was their project last week. And I think they turned out cool.”
The only rule was there were no rules. Jennifer oversaw the project, because maybe there was one rule, and that was to keep the colors on the shoes and off the dog.
“No guidelines at all,” he said. “Nothing. I didn’t tell them what color, I didn’t tell them anything. I said do whatever you guys want to do, just kind of gave them a bunch of Sharpies, essentially, and let them go to town on the shoes. Ben colored the majority of the shoe blue and there’s some green in there and he wrote his name. Max, he’s got a little more of an assortment of colors. Attempted to write his name a few different times. I thought it was cute. I feel it makes them a part of what I’m doing. And obviously on Father’s Day they’ll get a kick out of it.”
He’ll wear them Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. He is on the disabled list, probably for a few days more. He’ll be in uniform, however, one like so many he’s worn for better than three decades, this one white and blue and red, this time with a splash more color at his feet. This time the uniform will not be only his, but theirs — his and Ben’s and Max’s, and Jennifer’s too.
Perhaps it will become an Utley family tradition, Father’s Days filling their dad’s shoes with hope and joy and love and color as he pushes deeper into a special career. Perhaps this will be the only year, the last one, and then he decided to come home.
“I think it’s only natural to recognize there’s not a whole lot of time left,” he said. “It’s coming to an end sooner than later. … And I do see the uncertainty. I’m running out of time. The one thing I want, that I know, is I want to go out on my own terms.
“At some point I have to decide, when I’m spending so much time away from my two boys.”
One of these days. One of these years.
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