Jimmy Rollins back in Phillies camp

Domonic Brown is congratulated by third base coach Ryne Sandberg on his two-run homer.
Domonic Brown is congratulated by third base coach Ryne Sandberg on his two-run homer. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff)
Posted: March 20, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - He went from the buzzing crowds in Miami to some 100 people watching a minor-league game under grey skies, and Jimmy Rollins still could not understand why players scoff at the World Baseball Classic.

Rollins will be 38 years old in 2017 when the next incarnation of the tournament happens. He is inviting himself.

"If I'm still good enough at the time, and I can be brought back in any capacity . . . I'm leaving spring training. I'll tell you that right now," Rollins said. "I'll be there in a heartbeat."

That is no slight to his employer, the Phillies. Rollins, who returned to camp Monday after 16 days with the United States, said his top obligation was to his team and not his country. But weeks and weeks of drills and exhibition games can only do so much.

During the tournament, Rollins batted .321 in 28 at-bats over six games. Even though the U.S. team was eliminated before the semifinals, he said his mind was sharpened.

"Immediately," Rollins said. "You're ready. Honestly, I wish it started a week later, and we could go straight from the WBC, to two days [in spring training], straight into the season. Because you're game-ready, and even more so because you're playing in a pressure situation where two losses and you're out."

Rollins eased back into spring training Monday. While Charlie Manuel managed a group of Phillies two hours east in Disney World, Rollins took two rounds of morning batting practice at Bright House Field with Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz. With no one around to shag the batted balls, the players traversed the field with buckets afterward.

Later, Rollins played six innings at shortstop in a minor-league game at the Carpenter Complex. He batted twice, walked once, and scored a run.

He is not in Manuel's planned lineup for Tuesday. The team is off Wednesday and a long trip to Fort Myers looms Thursday night, so Rollins may not appear in a Grapefruit League game until Friday.

This was Rollins' second time in the WBC, and he said this experience was more enjoyable despite the early exit. He reveled in the dry Arizona air and cherished another chance to work with former Phillies manager Larry Bowa.

"It's competition," Rollins said. "As athletes, we play for competition, not for exercise. It's fun when something means something. Spring training, it gets long, it really does. . . . To go out there and have the at-bats mean something . . . No, they don't go on your bubble-gum card. And do they count as far as winning a World Series? No. But they mean something for the game of competition. It's the Olympics. There is no more baseball in the Olympics, so this is what we have."

Rollins said his hope was more players consider the tournament in the future. Is there anything he can say to convince those skeptical players?

"Just do it," Rollins said. "Hopefully, they respect you enough. They see it on TV, and when you actually watch the games, you get excited as a player. But it's the thought of leaving to prepare for the WBC that kind of turns you off. When you're there, it's really hard to explain. You're glad you made that decision."

Rollins made the final out in the United States' elimination loss to Puerto Rico. The sting was not immediate, he said. After a day or two, disappointment arrived.

"You think, 'Man, I should still be out there,' " Rollins said.

Instead, he was wearing Phillies red again Monday and laughing with minor-leaguers with two more weeks to kill until meaningful baseball.

Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow @magelb on Twitter.

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