"Do you get sentimental about nights like this?'' I asked him as he walked toward the batting cages before last night's game.
"No, I really don't,'' he said. "But it's exciting for the people around me. I've been on the other side where I got to watch guys accomplish things. Thome's 400th home run was one of the biggest moments I've been part of. I was on base . . . And it was like, damn, he did it. I think we went on a roll right after that.''
Rollins is a lot of things to a lot of people in this town, but let us never confuse him with Forrest Gump. He has not stumbled into his success and he is not surprised by it. He knows baseball history and he knows exactly where he is situated in it, and when he mentions amid a stroll to the batting cages an event that occurred exactly 10 years to the day of when he broke Mike Schmidt's record for most hits in a Phillies uniform, be assured it wasn't coincidence.
Thome's 400th home run on June 14, 2004, did not trigger a roll. The Phillies lost three of their next four games and finished June with a 13-14 record. But Rollins' 2,235th hit, to lead off the fifth inning on June 14, helped the Phillies to their fourth win in five games. And, it can be argued, his pursuit of Schmidt's record, which triggered a modest 15-game hitting streak, also triggered the Phillies' most consistent baseball of the season.
That's his legacy, whether he leaves here before his 36th birthday or after his 40th. Rollins triggered the best era of baseball this franchise has ever known using some of the same tools that has, at times, made him unpopular. Cockiness. Honest and sometimes brutal appraisal. And an uncanny ability to make his mark in moments, not metrics.
His "team to beat" boast in 2007 pushed the Phillies over their second-place hump and into a magical era of electric efforts and endings. One such ending, his game-winning, two-out double against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton in the 2009 NLCS, embodied this and underlined what delightful torture his existence in red pinstripes has been. Rollins was 3-for-18 in the series heading into that at-bat, and was just 6-for-26 in the the postseason after it.
"He likes the moment," former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said the night he beat the Dodgers, a theme repeated often. "He wants to be there, and he can control his adrenaline, and he can handle the moment. Those are the things that are very important when you get in the postseason. The bigger the stage, the better he likes to play.''
That matters little, of course, if the stage is a half-empty, wave-obsessed ballpark in August and September, if the cast around you are tomorrow's stars, or worse, bit players.
Before two losses to St. Louis over the weekend and last night's 4-0 bummer to the Marlins, the Phillies had won eight of 10 to quell, at least temporarily, calls to liquidate their aging assets for the uncertain future that prospects imply. Should either or both waive their no-trade clauses, Rollins and second baseman Chase Utley would bring the most in return. Both, though, for now, see what everyone else does: a division missing a lot of teeth, a division that will let you hang around long enough for some of your own assets, such as Cliff Lee and Mike Adams, to return.
So Rollins said again last night what he has been saying since the spring, what he told USA Today over the weekend: He doesn't want to be traded.
"Even if somewhere else was the perfect spot, this is what I know,'' he said in the USA Today piece. "You weigh that against the instant gratification of winning right now. You leave, and there's no guarantee you're going to win anyways. You pack up to leave for a different organization, a different city, and it feels temporary.''
The danger, of course, is that it's likely to feel temporary around here pretty soon. When Thome hit his 400th a decade ago, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu and Mike Lieberthal were leaned-on regulars. Last night, they stood near home plate in plainclothes, ghosts to Rollins' gloried past, and uncertain future.
On Twitter: @samdonnellon