Rollins makes a statement

Posted: April 02, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas - Jimmy Rollins strode into the Metroplex around 11 p.m. Sunday. He was wearing Jordans and a gray track suit and walking with his usual swagger. First pitch was about 14 hours away, and for those looking to push a preordained narrative, this could have been a "Thing.''

But Rollins never has cared much about these kinds of things. At times - like, for example, yesterday afternoon, surrounded by a pack of media, discussing a 14-10 win sparked by his second-inning grand slam - he offers the not-so-subtle impression that he is amused by it all. The glint in his eye, the gap-toothed grin.

Rollins had not traveled with the team when it left for Texas on Saturday, choosing to spend an extra day at home in case his wife, who is due to deliver their second child any day now, went into labor. Because, well, that's what a father does, even if that father happens to be a professional baseball player who spends much of his time serving as a lightning rod for other people's perceptions.

See, Jimmy Rollins seems to have learned something that eluded many of the sports figures this city has jilted. People are going to perceive what they are going to perceive, and when you start factoring those perceptions into the way you walk and talk and play your game, you stop being the athlete who got himself to the point where people care about how he walks and talks and plays his game. So why worry?

"You have to have that mentality in Philly," Rollins said. "If you're soft, they'll run you out. And my mama didn't raise me to be no soft dude."

That he was in the lineup for his 14th consecutive Opening Day start, tying Cal Ripken Jr. for the major league record for a shortstop, is a testament to that dude that his mama raised. But it is also a testament to the talent that remains inside his 35-year-old frame.

Last year was ugly for a lot of people in Phillies uniforms, Rollins included. His .252 batting average, .318 on-base percentage, .358 slugging percentage and six home runs all were well below his career norms. Trade rumors surfaced last July, and resurfaced this offseason. His manager gave him 3 days off in the middle of spring training, for reasons still unclear.

It sometimes seems a little too easy for some people to forget that Rollins has been on the field for at least 600 plate appearances in all but one of his 13 full major league seasons, that he is still, at the very least, one of the National League's steadiest shortstops, if not one of its most spectacular.

A day like yesterday, then, offers a good reminder that what the Phillies have at shortstop is far from a shrunk cost. You look over at Toronto and see Jose Reyes, he of the 6-year, $106 million contract and the injury-shortened seasons in 3 of the last 4 years, leaving the Blue Jays' opener with hamstring tightness. And then you return your focus to Globe Life Park, and you see Rollins crank the 200th home run of his career, this one off Tanner Scheppers with the bases juiced in the second inning.

That the hit ended up sparking a 14-run, 17-hit explosion could be interpreted as proof for the point that Rollins attempted to make in spring training when he offered a flippant, "Who cares?" to a reporter's question about the importance of spring-training stats, a statement that did not sit well with his manager and may have played a role in the aforementioned benching that Ryne Sandberg meted out.

"You said it," Rollins said yesterday, cracking a smile.

Rollins is too intelligent for narratives, and there are few less ingenuous than the Opening-Day-as-oracle variety. The Phillies were facing a starting pitcher who had never thrown more than 35 pitches in a game, and who was unable to place very many of the ones that he threw yesterday in the strike zone. That starter was followed by a host of relievers who endured similar struggles. Two years ago, the Phillies beat the Pirates on Opening Day behind a dominant Roy Halladay. It's a long season. To use yesterday as some sort of indication that the Phillies will spend the next 6 months embarrassing everybody's preseason expectations would not be a wise move.

"Like you said, it's only one game," Rollins said. "It was a good game. We came up on the left column, but I don't have much to say to people . . . We will prove it on the field, or we won't prove it on the field. But we plan to prove it on the field."

Yesterday was a start.

On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy


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