Chase Utley made his major-league debut in April 2003. That August, I attended my third ever baseball game, the last I would see live in Veterans Stadium.
The second baseman hit seventh that night. The shortstop hit eighth. And those two players would eventually be responsible for so much of my baseball life.
In every year since, I have made at least one trip to the ballpark. Most years, it has been several. I soak it in, I can't get enough. No. 26 is a primary reason.
So yes, saying goodbye is difficult, especially since Chase Utley has been a part of almost every baseball game I've ever seen live.
But it was also necessary. Utley needed a change of scenery. The Phillies needed a way to start moving the rebuilding process into the next phase, by bringing the future a little closer to the present.
That will be discussed enough over the months and years that the rebuilding takes place. This is a time to remember Chase Utley. Remember the memories of a season that are fading into the history books a little more every day, finally.
I remember watching Utley rise through the ranks, from being a piece at the bottom of the lineup to emerging as a star.
In 2006, he had a lengthy hitting streak. In 2007, his fractured wrist was thought to be the downfall of the team's playoff push. When Utley returned, he delivered a home run in his first game back and a walk-off hit to complete a sweep three days later, both against the NL East-leading Mets. It was Utley at his finest.
Unlike Jimmy Rollins, the outspoken leader, Utley was the quiet, reserved star who went about his business. His play on the field did the talking.
It is for that reason that I owe Utley for so much of my love for the game of baseball. I watch, like so many of you do, with an analytic eye. We observe, we critique, we form opinions. It's like watching a movie trailer and having three minutes to determine whether you love it or hate it, what you love about it and hate about it. You watch players coming through the ranks or even at the top and make judgments from one day to the next.
Utley raised the bar for those evaluations. He did so much so well that it set such high standards for Phillies fans. If you weren't working Chase Utley hard, you weren't working hard enough.
As I grew into an adult and learned more about the game, I learned more about why Utley was the way he was. In baseball, you are only as good as your last at-bat, last play in the field. Utley left it out there every night.
It was that kind of effort and knowledge that were apparent in his seven World Series home runs between 2008 and 2009. He had a few clutch home runs in the other rounds too. The play in Game 5, throwing out Jason Bartlett at the plate, was a play only Utley could make.
You never questioned his work ethic. And you held other players accountable if they seemed to be lacking it.
Through all of that, I got an understanding for baseball, how to watch the game and how it should be played, and a respect for the players on the field.
So starting in 2004, Utley was almost instantly one of my favorite players. He remained a favorite all the way to the end. I will be rooting for him, along with Jimmy Rollins, in Los Angeles as he pursues another championship.
Thanks for the memories, Chase. You are, and will always be, the man.
Kevin Durso is editorial assistant for Philliedelphia. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.