It has been another eventful year for Major League Baseball players with ties to Long Beach, but it’s easy to narrow it down to five top story lines from this season.
Careers Come To A Close
A year after Jered Weaver hung up his cleats after an All-Star career, Chase Utley is the latest local player to retire. Utley, 39, announced in July that this season with the Los Angeles Dodgers will be his last after a 16-year career. However, he’s still been contributing to the organization on and off the field.
Last week, Utley joined fellow Long Beach Poly High alum Billie Jean King for a news conference to announce King joining the ownership group. On Monday, Utley drew a ninth inning pinch-hit walk and scored a run in the Dodgers 7-4 win at Arizona.
As primarily a pinch hitter and utility option off of the bench, Utley has 35 hits and a .304 on-base percentage in 84 games played this season. He also set a new MLB record for hit by pitch, and has mentored young players like Enrique Hernandez, who made a family portrait shirt with Utley as his father.
Utley is a six-time All-Star and helped the Philadelphia Phillies win the 2008 World Series. The second baseman is a .275 career hitter with 259 home runs and 1,025 RBIs. Utley hit 14 home runs for Poly in his senior year, and was drafted in the second round by the Dodgers. He decided to attend UCLA where he was an All-American. Utley was drafted 15th overall by the Phillies in 2000.
Utley is the 24th of 25 Jackrabbits to have made it to the MLB, tied for the most of any high school in the nation.
Elsewhere, Long Beach State Dirtbag product Mike Marjama made his MLB debut less than a year ago, but in July the catcher decided to hang up his cleats and give back to a community that also shaped his life.
“I am more than an athlete,” Marjama wrote in his official retirement letter released via Twitter. “Having achieved more than I could have ever imagined in this game, I began to realize that my mission in life means more than a baseball career, earnings or success.”
Marjama, 28, told the Sacramento Bee last year that he struggled with an eating disorder as a wrestler at Granite Bay High School in Northern California. Now he is going to take a position as an ambassador with the National Eating Disorders Association to help those who are going through similar physical and mental difficulties.
Long Beach didn’t have a representative in the MLB All-Star game for the first time in 13 years. Utley started the streak in 2006, and Dirtbags product Jason Vargas extended it last year with his first All-Star selection.
LBSU also had an All-Star selection for 10 consecutive years with Vargas, Marco Estrada (2016), Jered Weaver (2010-2012), Evan Longoria (2008-2010) and Troy Tulowitzki (2010-11, 13-15).
There was some good news in July as three former Dirtbags were called up to the The Show in the span of two weeks. Pitcher Drew Gagnon and infielder Jeff McNeil joined the New York Mets while shortstop Garrett Hampson joined the Colorado Rockies. McNeil is the 51st Dirtbag to be called up to the majors, and the 12th to play in a game this season. LBSU has had the most former players in the MLB over the last decade.
Gagnon has two wins this month after coming out of the bullpen, and McNeil is hitting .340 with three home runs and a .394 on base percentage after 57 games at second base. Hampson is hitting .289 and getting more time in the field because of injuries.
Top Of His Game
Aaron Hicks, 28, is having the best year of his career in the New York Yankees outfield, but he injured his hamstring over the weekend and will have an MRI. The Wilson High alum has career highs in every major statistical category including hits (116), home runs (26), RBIs (76), runs scored (89) and WAR (4.7). He is fifth in the American League with a career-high 90 walks.
Hicks also became the first Yankee to hit multiple inside-the-park homers in a single season since Mickey Mantle hit three in 1958. The last time a MLB player hit three in a season was 1987.
The Yankees would be an American League wild card team if the playoffs stared today.
J.P. Crawford and Chase De Jong were both drafted straight out of a local high school, and both were able to came back to The Show this month.
Crawford, 23, made his debut last September, and then started this year with the Phillies, but he struggled at the plate. The former Lakewood High shortstop also battled a wrist injury, but was called up again and has hit .318 this month.
De Jong, 24, made his debut with the Seattle Mariners last season, but was traded to the Minnesota Twins this summer. The Wilson High alum has made three starts for the Twins, and has given up five earned runs in 11.2 innings with nine strikeouts. De Jong only gave up one hit and struck out five in four innings of his first start.
* Statistics through Sept. 24