Beyond the Bison: Dodgers’ Chase Utley becomes teammates with a fan from the past

Patrick Dempsey, Staff Writer

When a professional athlete visits a child in need, their impact on that child can last for an exceptionally long time. Many of us have friends that retell stories about how they met a professional athlete when they were a kid, but it’s probably safe to say that their stories are nothing like this one.

Every year we hear admirable tales of Major League Baseball players visiting children in need, but very rarely do we hear a story of one those kids becoming a professional baseball player themselves. It is even more rare for that child to end up in the same organization with the player who provided them with a bright spot in a challenging time in their life.

Growing up in New Jersey, Devin Smeltzer had always wanted to play in the big leagues. At age nine, he was diagnosed with a form of cancer called pelvic rhabdomyosarcoma. A tumor had grown against his bladder that was connected to his prostate. He was diagnosed a month before his tenth birthday. A bright spot for Smeltzer during this difficult time was the opportunity to go on the field before a Philadelphia Phillies game, where he got to meet two of his favorite players: second baseman Chase Utley and pitcher Cole Hamels. All around the web, there is a picture from 2006 with Utley taking some time from his pregame routine to sign Smeltzer’s Phillies hat.

Utley has since moved on from the Phillies, and has been a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2015.  In 2016, Smeltzer signed with the Dodgers after being drafted in the fifth round of the MLB Draft. Fortunately, Smeltzer is now cancer-free after going into full remission in 2012. On March 30 of this year, Dodgers General Manager Dave Roberts met with Smeltzer and walked him down to their locker room to share a special announcement with the major league team.

With the team unaware of Smeltzer’s encounter with Utley, Roberts handed out the picture of Utley and Smeltzer in 2006, before formally introducing Smeltzer to the team. It was a surreal moment as Utley and Smeltzer reunited and exchanged a few words. The expression the Dodgers players had when Roberts revealed who was in the picture was incredible.

“The picture of me and Chase has been in the living room for a long time,” Smeltzer said to SportsNet L.A. “When I go back home, it’s always very humbling to see that picture because of where I’m at today. It’s crazy to believe that I was going through such a hard time at such a young age, and how much I’ve grown.”

“It’s crazy how we impact guys every single day. We have no idea what kind of impact we can have on a 10-year-old Devin Smeltzer,” Roberts said.

Utley agreed. “It’s a pretty special and unique story. I can’t even imagine what he was going through, what his parents were going through,” Utley said. “Hopefully at some point, he’ll be pitching here at Dodger Stadium.”

Utley re-signed with the Dodgers on a two-year contract in Feb. 2018, making it a possibility that 22-year-old Smeltzer could reach the major leagues and be teammates with Utley before the 39-year-old star retires. It is amazing how a small act of kindness can have such a powerful impact on the receiving person. Utley took two minutes out of his day to sign a child’s hat, but Smeltzer’s story is one that Utley will never forget.

The feel-good story has since gone viral, and people around the world are binding together to wish Smeltzer the best of luck in his future endeavors.

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