J-Roll and Me … since 2007

jimmy-rollinsNot often do I feel genuine admiration for professional athletes.  It’s rarer still that I become a dedicated fan.

If you give a twit about professional sports, you quickly learn that pro athletes come and go, sometimes on a whim and always regardless of your affection.  Pro athletes are a special kind of mercenary … Keen to their value and the limited horizon of their earning potential, they tend to move where the financial grass is greener after a few years in any one city for any particular team.

There are of course exceptions; but the best approach to avoiding repeated disappointments and that goofy fan version of “loss”, when a favored player departs, is to remain a distant and objective fan, dedicated only to statistics and the calculus of how individual players will – or will not – help your preferred team addiction.

Jimmy Rollins is one of the few players to so ingratiate themselves in my view of the professional athlete should represent to become a player  an individual I respect.  As a partial season ticket holder, I have enjoyed watching Rollins play the shortstop position in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park.  But now that he will move on in an unsurprising trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, it’s time to look back at his 15-year Philadelphia Phillies career.

He had his faults, don’t get me wrong.  He could have been a better hitter (.267 career average); never walked enough (averaging just 50 BB/season); and had fleeting issues with the concept of hustle on the base paths.

Through all of that, Rollins was still able to earn what I like to think is my difficult-to-earn Sports Admiration by what he accomplished in 2007.

That season he set career marks in Games, At Bats (716), Plate Appearances, Runs (139) and Triples (20).  With 17 games remaining in the regular season and the Phillies facing a 7.5 game deficit in the National League East, Rollins batted .309 with multiple hits in 15 of those games, 3 Homeruns, 12 RBI.  Leading the Phillies past the Mutts and grabbing the first of 5 consecutive NL East crowns!

St. Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies - Game 2But what really set that season apart in my mind was what he said a few weeks before the first meaningful pitch of 2007 was thrown, before a single at-bat, even before spring training started.  Following a season where the New York Mets dominated in winning the NL East by 12 games, James Calvin Rollins declared the Philadelphia Phillies “the team to beat in the National League East” for that upcoming 2007 season!

Certainly I wasn’t alone in finding Rollins’ proclamation cringe-worthy for a team that hadn’t shown much life or distinction in preceding seasons.  But that’s what impressed me most in 2007, that Rollins had the confidence to proclaim how good his team was, and then have the career season to make sure it happened.  In the end, Rollins won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, a Gold Glove (his first of four), and a Silver Slugger (his only) in what was the best season of his career.

From that 2007 season forward, I could overlook those isolated hustle-related incidents because of the confidence – even cockiness – and Leadership he provided a team that would win just its second World Series MLB championship a year later.

In his 15 years in Philadelphia, Rollins set franchise career marks in Hits (2306) and Doubles (479); appeared in 3 All-Star Games; and finished 3rd in Rookie-of-the-Year voting (2001).  At the crucial position of shortstop, he won the aforementioned four Gold Gloves; but even more impressively he ranks 3rd in Fielding Percentage (.983) among all shortstops in modern Major League Baseball history.

No doubt this places him among the best defensive shortstops ever to play the game.

In addition, Rollins was a community philanthropist whose charity, The Rollins Family Foundation, benefitted the Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis Foundation and Prevent Child Abuse PA.  Most recently, his charity has worked to educate and promote access to fresh foods for low-income families.  He and his wife also founded The Johari & Jimmy Rollins Center for Animal Rehabilitation in Woolwich Township, NJ.

However, from this day forward Jimmy Rollins will provide his special kind of Leadership and defensive play in a uniform other than the red pinstripes of a Phillie.  It will be weird seeing him play in another uniform, let alone the blue of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  But such is the nature of the tenuous pro athlete-fan relationship.

You only get to enjoy watching them play for your team for only so long.  Hopefully for Phillie fans, 15 years was long enough.

May the baseball gods be fair to you, Jimmy Rollins!  May you have the chance to recapture that elusive championship feeling once again.  Just please, not with the Dodgers … or the Mets, Braves, Yankees, Nationals or Red Sox …

Just sayin’ …

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