Inside the Phillies: Two former Phillies visit; only one is welcomed

Posted: August 21, 2012

One of the most beloved Phillies infielders of all time returned to Citizens Bank Park on Monday night in a Cincinnati Reds uniform.

Scott Rolen was back in town, too.

This was Wilson Valdez's first appearance here since general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. traded the sure-handed utility man to the Reds for pitcher Jeremy Horst just a few weeks before the start of spring training.

Valdez, 34, was loudly applauded before his ninth-inning pinch-hit appearance. He won the hearts and minds of Phillies fans during his two seasons with the team, but the obsessive concern after the January trade with the Reds was still somewhat startling.

I still get an occasional e-mail wondering why Valdez was shipped out of Philadelphia after two terrific seasons as an oft-used understudy for shortstop Jimmy Rollins, second baseman Chase Utley, and third baseman Placido Polanco.

That sort of correspondence has slowed some in recent weeks because Horst has emerged as a lefty who could have a future in the Phillies bullpen. In case you did not notice, Valdez arrived hitting .205 with three extra-base hits and 12 RBIs in 132 at-bats and struck out looking during his pinch-hit appearance.

There are a lot of reasons the Reds have a comfortable lead in the National League Central Division and the second-best record in baseball, but I'm pretty sure Valdez does not make the top 25.

There are also a lot of reasons the Phillies will not be making a sixth straight postseason appearance, but we're going to need more than 25 of them before reaching the departure of Valdez.

That's not to say Valdez was unworthy of his praise here or that he does not bring value to a team. Catching the baseball as consistently as he does is underrated. (See Ty Wigginton at third base.) Valdez was also a clutch hitter with the Phillies and a go-to-relief pitcher in the 19th inning of any game.

"I'm bigger than everybody here," Valdez told teammate Brandon Phillips after being approached by two Philadelphia reporters. "I'm like you in Cincinnati."

He was, of course, joking, and that's one of the things that made Valdez so much fun to be around during his brief tenure in Philadelphia.

Rolen, 37, actually was the most popular baseball player in Philadelphia at one time. He was by far the best player on a lot of bad Phillies teams that used to play in the round bowl of concrete that stood beyond the left-field wall at Citizens Bank Park. The eight-time Gold Glove third baseman used to plead for ownership to open its pocketbook in order to improve the talent base, but that did not happen until after Rolen was gone.

When he left, Rolen infuriated the masses by referring to St. Louis as baseball heaven and he has been booed before every Philadelphia plate appearance since, including the ones he made Monday night.

What's different for Rolen this time is that these could be his final plate appearances in Philadelphia. He would not say for sure that he is going to retire, but he is in the final year of his contract with the Reds, and back and shoulder injuries have significantly limited his playing time over the last three seasons.

"I'm going to make sure I have my eyes open when I go to different ballparks," Rolen said. "I'm not definite, but when I leave San Francisco or Los Angeles, I take a look around. When I leave here [after Thursday's game], I will have my eyes open. I think my last day here, I'll probably pull my jersey off, have it authenticated, and hang it up. If this is my last game here, I'll have an authenticated jersey."

That means a lot to Rolen. The divorce from Philadelphia was a messy one, but he still has a lot of friends and a special fondness for his first big-league home. For that matter, he still has a special fondness for his former home in Berwyn.

"I still stay at my neighbors' whenever I'm here," Rolen said. "I stay at the house right next door to where I used to live, so I look at my house all the time. We go eat lunch at the restaurants I used to eat at when I played here."

Rolen hears the boos, but they have not altered his opinion of the place where his career started.

"Everything that goes on, it's easy to hear and see," he said. "I expect that when I come back, but it does not mean this is not a special place in my career. It's as special as any place I've ever been, and that's why I'm going to take that jersey off and hold onto it."


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com or @brookob on Twitter.

 

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