This was originally written when Jimmy Rollins got his 2000th hit in 2012. It seems appropriate to repost it tonight in tribute to the little guy who will leave a big shadow behind. Make sure to check out the new material at the end of the post!
As a kid he excelled in both baseball and football. In fact, if asked to choose between the two, the young athlete would have
probably chosen the gridiron. He loved the San Francisco 49ers and he dominated in Pop Warner football.
But when his height plateaued at 5’7”, Jimmy Rollins gave up dreams of a pro football career and opted for baseball instead.
And 2000 hits later, it seems the young Rollins made the right choice.
Many pro athletes will attribute their success to the many hours spent with their Dads in the batting cages and fielding ground balls in the back yard.
As for Jimmy?
His baseball inspiration was his Mom, Gigi, a top infielder in the fast-pitch softball leagues of Northern California. Jimmy spent many an afternoon tagging along to his Mom’s practices, collecting balls in the outfield in exchange for a chance to take a couple of swings at the plate or field some grounders. In fact, Gigi still claims that she was a better ballplayer than he is.
Hey, now we know where that Jimmy Rollins swagger comes from.
In high school Rollins stole 99 bases and hit .484, both school records. Those numbers attracted the attention of some pro scouts who would normally have dismissed a 5’7” kid as just too small to make it in the majors. He was selected by the Phillies in the second round of the 1996 draft and Jimmy had found a home.
Jimmy’s parents had one rule for their children growing up: You never quit. And that rule would serve the 17-year old Rollins well as he worked his way up from the bottom. He started his career playing for the Appalachian League’s Martinsville Phillies where he hit just .238.
A couple of years later he finally made the leap to Triple-A. It was the first time he had played on artificial turf and the young Rollins, unused to the speed of the turf, struggled with his footing. On the first ball hit his way, a grounder up the middle, his feet got tangled up and Jimmy fell flat on his face.
But he took his parents ‘never quit’ rule to heart. Just ten years later Jimmy Rollins would famously declare his Philadelphia Phillies “the team to beat in the NL East” then back it up, leading his team to their first division title in 14 years.
As for Jimmy?
He had some firsts of his own. He became the first player in Major League history to collect 200 hits, 15 triples, 25 home runs, and 25 stolen bases in the same season. He also became the 4th player to have at least 20 home runs, 20 triples, 20 doubles, and 20 stolen bases with an RBI triple on the last day of the season winning him the 2007 NL MVP.
Not bad for a 5’7” kid who once had dreams of playing football.
But Jimmy wanted more than individual records.
“Records are meant to be broken and it’s good to have an opportunity to chase them. But I’m more focused on how we do as a team.”
And focused he was. In 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies gave a championship-starved city what they had long been waiting for. The Phillies won the World Series, their first title in 28 years.
As for Jimmy?
The little shortstop with the big words backed them up again. He became the first player to lead off two clinching games with homers in the same postseason and joined his teammates in a ride down Broad Street this city will never forget.
Now with his 2000th hit Jimmy Rollins joins some rarefied Phillies company. Only Mike Schmidt, Richie Ashburn and Ed Delahanty had that many. And only 30 switch-hitters in history have at least 2,000 hits.
Not bad for the little guy who fell flat on his face fielding his first ground ball in Triple-A.
Yes, there are those who will point to some of Rollins’ controversial statements or his occasional failures to run hard to first on a ground ball. Yes, there are those who will say that he doesn’t get on base enough to be an effective leadoff hitter or that he’s not worth the money the Phillies are paying him.
But this is not the time to debate any of that. This is the time to celebrate the little guy with the big arm. The shortstop with the swagger. The guy who talked the talk, telling the world that his team was the “team to beat,” and then walked the walk taking us all along with him for the glorious ride. This is the time to congratulate the Phillies diminutive shortstop on his big achievement.
As for Jimmy?
He’s not done yet.
‘It was great, but 3,000 is better,’‘ said Rollins. “[It’s] pretty cool, but I still have work to do.”
And that’s not bad for those of us who will get to watch him do it.
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
We knew this day would come. We even knew that it should
But that doesn’t mean that it has to feel good.
After 15 seasons of sporting Phillies red
J-Roll’s trading coasts; he’ll wear Dodgers blue instead
He loved to play the game; he lived loved living life with style
And no night was complete without that Jimmy Rollins’ smile.
Yes, he gave our team his swagger, some might call it attitude
But he leaves with something, too, our undying gratitude.
So our caps are off to J-Roll as he heads to La-La land
And when he’s at the Bank we’ll even give him a hand
But there’s one thing that we’re keeping, actually 5 to be complete
Words that live in Phillies history: “We’re the team to beat.”