I have a new favorite baseball player: the Philadelphia Phillies' second baseman Chase Utley. Although Utley went 0-3 in the sixth and final World Series game in a losing effort against the New York Yankees on November 4, my admiration for him is undiminished.
Immediately after game five in which Utley hit two colossal home runs and tied Reggie Jackson's World Series record for most homers (5) in a World Series, I went to the Internet to learn more about him.
What compelled me to do more research is Utley's on-field demeanor.
Unlike Jackson ("I'm the straw that stirs the drink"), Utley refuses to take curtain calls after his prodigious home runs. He simply puts his head down and circles the bases with a minimum of fuss. (See an Utley homer here.)
And Utley, unlike Manny Ramirez and other power hitters, doesn't drop his bat and watch in awe as his shots clear the fence. Nor does Utley engage in the massively irritating post-home run finger pointing to the heavens.
Broadcasters have to beg Utley for an interview, not because he's aloof but because he knows that baseball is a team sport and not about a single individual. (Watch Utley's post-record tying interview here.)
When I started my Utley fact-finding mission, I already knew that he was born in Long Beach and drafted by the Phillies off the UCLA campus in the first round.
At UCLA, where Utley compiled a .342 batting average while twice earning All-Pac-10 team honors, he led the Bruins to the 2000 NCAA Super Regionals at Louisiana State.
What I didn't know was just how quintessentially American Utley's saga is.
His future wife Jennifer was a UCLA co-ed. They hung out and courted at the library.
As it turns out, Chase and Jen love puppies, too.
Get this! After having paid the medical and rehabilitation bills for a puppy that had been beaten and tortured, the Utleys adopted it.
Philadelphia refers to the Utleys as: "The Couple That Loves Us Back," and residents admire them for their volunteerism on behalf of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and for founding Utley's All Star Animals. (Watch the Utleys, other Phillies and various cats and dogs at Citizens Bank Park here)
I could go on but, well, you get my point.
With major league baseball on the field becoming less and less the apple pie and Americana scene that it once was, because of the ever-increasing numbers of foreign-born players, it's refreshing to read personal and professional success stories like Utley's. [The Couple That Loves Us Back, by Larry Platt, Philadelphia Magazine, August 2008]
To be sure, the foreign-born players may have similarly romantic and tender tales. They probably love their wives and pets, too.
But how could we ever know? They can't tell us—because they don't speak English!
Nicholas Stix tipped us off that, despite living in America for nearly a decade, Seattle Mariner Ichiro Suzuki can't speak English—not even, as reader Bill Caudill pointed out, at the Chico Escuela level.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, the $103 million Boston Red Sox albatross, always has a translator at his side.
Some speculated that Matsuzaka could say "nice cap" but then it turns out that those two words are nearly the same phonetically in English as they are in Japanese. (Nice=naisu; cap= kyappu).
Hideki Matsui, currently the toast of New York for his World Series Most Valuable Player performance, is the most curious case of all.
Like Suzuki and Matsuzaka, Matsui, even though he's played for the Yankees for seven years, doesn't speak English. But since he spends most of his time with Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, his Spanish is improving!
His teammates Bobby Abreu and Derek Jeter even accused Matsui of entering into a loveless marriage just to win a bet with them. [Matsui Gets Married and Not Just To Beat Jeter, by Tyler Kepner, New York Times, March 28, 2008]
When word leaked last year that Matsui had wed, reporters asked him to tell them about his new bride. Unable to answer, Matsui drew her picture.
I can only hope that Matsui's a poor artist since her image looks exactly like she's an outer space alien—and not the illegal ones we're always writing about.
Unlike the Utleys who spend their spare time rescuing homeless animals, Matsui prefers to watch porn. In Japan, Matsui is famous for his extensive collection of XXX-rated material. [Yankee Slugger Hideki Matsui Weds Long Time Girl Friend, by Mark Feinsand and Bill Hutchinson, New York Daily News, March 28, 2008]
I know that post-Americans will read my column and laugh at me. So what if Matsui doesn't speak English? So what if he's a Martian?
But I don't care.
I've been a baseball fan since I was old enough to stand up.
During more than half a century, I've admired many foreign-born players. I remember watching Cuban-born Luis Tiant when he pitched for the Red Sox. In 1975, Tiant won two World Series games against the eventual champion Cincinnati Reds.
Smoking a big stogie, Tiant spoke in Spanish about how great "beisbol Americano" had been for him. If you have a chance, watch the film about the great El Tiante's return to Cuba titled The Lost Son of Havana.
Thirty-five years ago, I wasn't offended by Tiant's inability to speak English. But that was more than 50 million immigrants ago—and during an era when American players still dominated major league baseball squads.
Now, more enlightened, I hold a different view.
If foreign-born players earn small fortunes playing baseball in America, then I expect at a minimum that they will learn English.
I am an unashamedly, unabashedly proud American. Baseball, the original patriotic sport that immigrants including my parents embraced in the early 20th Century, symbolizes America.
I don't care if Matsui gets 6 RBIs a game in every game he plays until hell freezes over. Non-English speaking Japanese players cannot reflect America no matter how talented they may be. (Listen to a typical Matsui post-game interview conducted entirely in Japanese here.)
When I go to baseball stadiums to see the games, I carry along my 1950s, made-in-the-U.S.A. Rawlings Mickey Mantle glove. When I watch from my couch, my Mantle glove is by my side.
Those same annoying post-Americans no doubt will find it silly that an adult old enough to collect Social Security carries a baseball glove around like Linus' blanket.
But my glove makes me feel a lot better about baseball—and America.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.