I moved to Philadelphia towards the end of the summer of 2006 and in short order, fell in love with the city. One of my concerns upon moving to the city from my hometown of Portland, Maine was filling my baseball fix. I loved watching baseball, specifically the Boston Red Sox, yet it quickly became apparent that if I were going to continue to watch baseball on a regular basis, a change would have to be made.
I would need to become a Phillies’ fan.
Now I would still be a Red Sox fan; they would always be my number one when it came to baseball, but I would adopt the Phillies as my shortie on the side so to speak. This was all perfectly legal as the Sox were in the American League, the Phils were in the National League and thus, it was all above board. Unlike our current President, I was able to proceed without any conflicts of interest.
Over the course of the months following the 2006 season, I began studying up on my new second favorite baseball team; learning who to support, who not to support, who to be routinely disappointed with and frustrated with and who to keep an eye on in terms of future success. Pat Burrell was not to be trusted, Cole Hamels was the promising up and comer, Ryan Howard was the new big man on campus. Shane Victorino was a legitimate wild card from Hawaii who was fast as hell and never blinked, Jayson Werth looked like he slept in a cave, Aaron Rowand would literally try and run through walls in order to catch fly balls and back-up catcher Carlos Ruiz had a nickname that was never not fun to say…Chooooooooch.
Yet the two players I started to hone in on were the Phils’ dynamic middle infielders: Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. One was a hard as nails, no nonsense white dude and the other was a flashy, always smiling, energetic black dude, and together, their spirit and play was infectious. There would be a lot of factors that would come into play when the team went on it’s impressive run over the next few years, a run that included division titles, league titles and a World Series championship in 2008, but none of those factors would even matter if not for the play of Utley and Rollins.
Fast forward to the spring of 2017 and I no longer live in Philadelphia, the Phillies are entirely different team than the one I remember, Chase Utley plays for the Dodgers and news broke last night that the San Francisco Giants were moving on without Rollins, who had signed a minor league deal with the club in December. It’s always likely that another team might try and pick Rollins up, but in all likelihood, it looks as if his career might have come to an end. It’s shame of course, but instead of lamenting the future, I’m more inclined to celebrate the past.
“Rollins will finish as only the eighth player in baseball history, and the only shortstop ever, to clear 200 homers, 500 doubles, and 400 steals. He’ll join the likes of Barry Bonds, Craig Biggio, Rickey Henderson, and Roberto Alomar on that list. He’ll finish with a career WAR of 46, good for 22nd all time among shortstops, right above Omar Vizquel and right behind Miguel Tejada.”
The crown jewel of Rollins career was his 2007 season, in which he was named National League MVP. That year Rollins racked up some truly amazing stats, including, but certainly not limited to, scoring 139 runs, getting 212 hits including 38 doubles, 20 triples and 30 home runs, stealing 41 bases and finishing the year with a on-base percentage of .875. He went eight seasons in a row with hitting at least 30 doubles and stealing 20 bases, and in addition to the MVP award, won three gold gloves.
And of course he helped lead his team to a World Series victory in 2008.
If Utley was the team’s nuts and bolts and Howard was the premium gasoline, Rollins was the heart and soul, the team’s engine. They went as he went, for better or worse. One of the things that really endeared the Phillies to me was their fight, their never-say-die attitude. From 2007 to 2009, I truly believed they could win every game they played because they quite simply never gave up. If they were down a run or two going into the ninth, it was definitely not over until it was over. An ending like the one in game four of the 2009 National League Championship Series was special, not only because of how amazing it was, but because of how it was evidence that for the Phillies and Rollins, they seemed to have a sort of magic to them that compelled them to rise to the occasion.
I still remember hearing the call from Scott Franzke, the team’s radio play-by-play guy, driving back up 95, on the way home from a job. Of course the Phillies pulled it off and of course it was Jimmy Rollins in the middle of it. Some things just make too much sense.
Magic fades though, and for the Phillies, the wheels started to come off as the 2000’s rambled into it’s second decade. Their winning ways were starting to disappear, as were some of the key faces that had played such integral roles in their recent success. The core of the team were starting to get shipped out and in December of 2015, Rollins was traded to the Dodgers, leaving the Phillies as the franchise leader in hits, at-bats and doubles. Rollins spent one season out west, a season that was just okay, before signing with the Chicago White Sox, where he played a limited role during the 2016 season. I actually didn’t even know Rollins was on the White Sox until I was at a Yankees’ game, they were playing Chicago and Rollins was up to bat. As right as it felt when Rollins would win a game late for the Phillies was as wrong as it felt watching him step up to bat for the White Sox. Sports can be cruel like that.
We all love sports for a variety of reasons, but I think we can all agree that watching an athlete play with such unbridled passion, enthusiasm and joy is one of the best things sports has to offer. Watching someone excel at their craft not just with unmatched skill, but with pure excitement and doing so while appearing to have so much fun is the absolute best. Those are the players and athletes that stick out, those are the ones we remember.
And I’ll always remember Jimmy Rollins. I’ll remember watching him dive around the infield of Citizens Bank Park and I’ll remember watching him put his all into a swing and hitting the ball farther than any dude his size should ever hit it. I’ll remember spending a cold day somewhere in south Jersey, in Rollins’ backyard as he filmed a promo for an event I was working on, Red Bull Ball Park Cranks, and I’ll remember how honored I was to help conceive and execute the event itself.
Jimmy Rollins was a one-of-a-kind player, the kind of player who at the end of the day, you feel lucky to have watched play. If this is the end of the road for JRoll, then so be it.
It was a hell of a ride.