Crowd Pleaser – Rollins is still the fan favorite

By STEPHEN WILDMAN
Senior Baseball Insider — swildman@highhopesblog.com

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Jimmy Rollins slammed a bases-loaded double to right center field in Game 2 of the NLCS (photo: philly.com)

“I think we are the team to beat in the N.L. East… finally.”

Every Phillies fan across the Delaware Valley remembers this quote from Jimmy Rollins prior to the 2007 season.  His prophetic statement, to go along with his MVP Award-winning season, sparked a love for J-Roll that took the city by storm. 

He was always a popular player before the ’07 season.  After the Scott Rolens and Curt Schillings of yesteryear’s Phillies clubs had bolted for greener pastures, the faithful fans needed a guy to hang their hat on, a reason to come down to South Philly to cheer on a historically sub-par franchise.  Jimmy was that guy in the leaner years of the early part of the decade since his debut in September of 2000.  He was frustratingly inconsistent as a leadoff man, yet dynamic on the base paths and with the glove.  He was always a guy who never got enough credit from half of the city, and got too much credit from the other half.  It almost seemed as if he wanted to prove everyone in baseball wrong with every Babe Ruth-esque swing for the fences from the leadoff spot in the lineup, even if that meant popping up the first pitch a whole lot more often than hitting a home run.

To follow-up his Nostradamus impression from the 2007 season, he predicted the Phillies would win 100 games in 2008.  Not surprisingly to Phils’s fans, the team did just that during the regular season and on their way to a World Series Championship.  J-Rolls bat, glove, and way with words had Philadelphia believing he could walk on water after that remarkable run in ’08, and fans couldn’t wait to see what he would do/say next.

But after a below average 2009 season in which he hit just .250, and an injury-plagued 2010 campaign to date, there were whispers around the stadium, sports-talk radio, and baseball gurus which doubted if Rollins could be not just an effective leadoff man, but if this was the beginning of the end for the best shortstop in Phillies franchise history.

All of these factors combined is what makes NLCS Game 2’s bases-loaded clearing, game-busting double off the wall that much sweeter for the fans and players of this team.  Jimmy Rollins, despite his faults, remains the most popular player on the team.  Each and every time he’s returned from injury this year, he’s received some of the most roaring ovations of the season.  There will be those who argue that Chase Utley is the best all around player on the team, or that Roy Halladay is the best pitcher, or that Carlos Ruiz is the most clutch.  That’s all well and good, but their popularity hasn’t come close to J-Roll’s, and they can’t compete with 10 seasons of tremendous ups and crushing downs that he’s lived through with the team and with the fans.

Unlike so many of the club’s current superstars, Jimmy came up to the big club at a young 21 years of age.  Fans have either watched him grow up, or grown up with him, and that’s what makes him special to the city of Philadelphia.

“God gave me this talent,” Rollins said, “and I’m going to do something with it.  That’s just the way it is.”

Players like Jimmy are what makes championship teams, and the fans of the Phillies have learned to believe that during this current run.  Unlike so many athletes across all of sports, his mouth can cash the checks it writes.  He is undeniably the heart, soul, and spirit of this potential dynasty in the making.  He is the engine that has made this Mack Truck of a team roll through the National League the past few seasons.

“I was glad I was the person up there at the moment and able to come through,” he said at his press conference following Sunday night’s game.

As are we, Jimmy.

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