Pigs' manager Sandberg sees himself in Utley
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Combine their numbers, and you’re looking at two second basemen with a combined 3,584 hits, 661 doubles, 470 home runs and 15 All-Star Game selections.
So, yeah, it was pretty darn cool to see Ryne Sandberg hitting grounders to Chase Utley Tuesday afternoon at a minor-league stadium an hour north of Philly.
“I got a kick out of it,” Sandberg said. “I got a little thrill from it, sure.”
Utley is here at Coca-Cola Stadium to play one game with the Triple A IronPigs and finish his lengthy rehab from chronic pain in both knees. Utley played in nine games with Class A Clearwater before spending Monday taking batting practice and infield with the Phillies.
If all goes well here Tuesday night, Utley is expected to make his 2012 debut on Wednesday night, when the Phillies face the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park.
But on Tuesday night, two of the top offensive second basemen in baseball history were together for one remarkable day.
In major-league history, only nine second basemen have hit .285 with at least 175 home runs and 250 doubles, and at Coca-Cola Field Tuesday, one was hitting ground balls to another.
Sandberg, speaking before the IronPigs faced the Rochester Red Wings, said he hadn’t spent much time with Utley until Tuesday. He didn’t shy away from comparisons between the two -- Sandberg, a 20th-round pick of the Phillies in 1978 who played only 13 games in a Phillies uniform, and Utley, a first-round pick in 2000 who’s been a Phillie since 2000.
“I’ve watched him play and I’ve admired his career and admired how he goes about his business,” Sandberg said. “We have a lot of mutual friends and coaches that have had him along the way that have spoken very highly of him and have made comparisons when they’ve talked to me about what his work ethic is and and how he goes about his business, how he plays the game, with respect, and how he gets after it.
“So I’ve heard that really since he’s started. I’ve admired him from a distance and the last two spring trainings didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him because of his injuries, but just being around him in the short period of time, I know he’ll be a very valuable guy to the Philadelphia Phillies, and I think he can give them a spark if all things go well here and he can join the parent club."
Sandberg hit .285 with 282 home runs in his 16-year Hall of Fame career. Utley has hit .290 with 188 home runs so far in nine seasons.
Sandberg was asked what qualities he believed the two second basemen share.
“Quite a bit,” he said. “All business, not a lot of talk but business, quiet leader, vocal leader when you have to be, being prepared every single day to play and perform up to the standards that both he and I have created.
“So a lot of similarities and, you know, it’s easy to talk to him because we’re on the same page with everything. He walked up to me and asked what the signs were and the little things that might take place in the game, what the bunt sign is. He’s here to play a baseball game, and that’s professional. Here early, got all his work done inside, real good stretching routine, came out and did a real good pregame. Looks like he has a lot of hop to his step, like he’s real excited.
“He’s a hard worker, he’s dedicated to the game, he’s dedicated to the organization, he’s one of the top guys in the organization as far as what he can bring to a team and a lineup, so it’s good to see him out here.”
Utley is batting third in Sandberg’s lineup and wearing jersey No. 21 instead of No. 26, since No. 26 is reserved for the IronPigs’ mascot, FeRROUS. Go back to high school chemistry -- FE is the periodic table of the elements symbol for Iron, and 26 is its periodic numeral.
Utley will face Red Wings righthander Brendan Wise, a 26-year-old career minor leaguer from Australia who is 2-1 with a 4.43 ERA in 23 games at Rochester this year.
Sandberg said he was impressed with Utley after he took infield.
“You know what, I saw good quickness,” he said. “Good quick first step. Looked like Chase Utley to me.
“I think the test is to watch him during the game and see all the action he gets and see his reads and the first steps and running the bases, timing at home plate, all those things, but as far as the defensive side of it, looked like he had a good quick first step and a lot of hop.”E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org