Sio Keating’s first baseball memory is a vivid one that will encounter its share of disbelievers.
The 4-year-old and his parents, Sean and Debbie, have been vacationing in Florida for the past week. Philadelphia Phillies fans currently residing in the Washington, D.C., area, the Keatings went to Disney World, visited family in St. Petersburg and left legendary with a Chase Utley autographed baseball.
The host Bradenton Marauders conducted a promotion that enabled fans to bring their dogs to Sunday’s Florida State League game against the Clearwater Threshers. While there will plenty of canines amongst the crowd of 1,299, Utley was for many of the spectators the main attraction.
Upon learning that the five-time National League All-Star second baseman would make the trip to Bradenton and continue his rehabilitation assignment against the Marauders, the Keating family altered their travel itinerary. They were amongst those lined up in the left field stands looking to catch a glimpse of Utley as he emerged from the visitors’ clubhouse 45 minutes prior to Sunday’s 5 p.m. start.
As Utley took the field to join his new teammates in stretching and warm-up exercises, he was serenaded with autograph requests from little ones, teenagers, and adults. Looking to recover from patellar tendonitis in his right knee that cost him all of spring training and prevented him from playing in games until recently, Utley appeared as if he was able to keep it from being a distraction.
Then, an impassioned plea of, “Mr. Utley, may I have your autograph?” from a little girl was met with an, “I’ll be with you in just a second,” from Utley. He walked over to the concourse barrier and began scribbling his name.
Soon, Utley was back to work and several autograph seekers, including Sio Keating, were on the verge of disappointment. However, Utley did not disappoint.
He made one trip back over to the concourse barrier. That is when Keating got a brief conversation and his signed baseball.
“Chase, you’re my favorite player,” Keating said.
Responding with a smile, Utley said, “Thanks buddy.”
His mother soon put the ball in a bag and replaced it with another for Sio to play with. As his family walked back to their seats, Sio was so thrilled that he did not seem fazed by the large Great Dane or assortment of bulldogs and lap dogs in the stands.
“The best week ever,” Sean Keating proclaimed.
Utley, the eighth major leaguer on a rehabilitation assignment to play against the two-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate, first suited up for Clearwater on May 11, his first game since last year’s National League Championship Series. He went 4-for-10 with a double and a home run in three straight games before sitting out Saturday night’s 6-2 loss at Bradenton.
Returning to action, Utley was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Sunday in Clearwater’s 1-0 victory. He exited along with starting pitcher Jarred Cosart — who carried a perfect game through six innings — in the middle of the eighth inning.
The latest major league rehabber not to fare very well against the Marauders, Utley’s performance was impactful nonetheless.