As we creep closer and closer to opening day we look for any excuse to talk about baseball. I can’t even count how many meaningless conversations I have had in the last week about Joe Blanton. Honestly who cares who the 5th starter is, if you throw Matt Gelb out there I’d be satisfied! Leroy, Cliff, Cole, Roy…..come ohhhnnn! This brings me to the longest-tenured Phightin, Jimmy “J-Roll” Rollins.
J-Roll has been a fixture on this team since 2000 when he phinally got the call up to the basement dwelling big league club. In his 14 games in 2000 J-Roll hit a respectable .321 and swiped 3 bases and with the second option of Tomas Perez as the starting shortstop it was evident why the Phillies penciled J-Roll in as the starting shortstop and leadoff hitter for 2001.
Jimmy provided a spark to a dismal Phillies team with a stellar rookie season and the only Phillie to be named to the All-Star team. He hit .274 recording double figures in doubles, triples, and homeruns, while also leading the NL in stolen bases with 46. With good years from players like J-Roll, Abreu, Pat the Bat, and Scott Rolen the Phillies managed to win 86 games in 2001 and J-Roll would have run away with rookie of the year if not for a certain St. Louis Cardinal. Any guesses?
J-Roll’s commitment to baseball and to becoming a better player really took shape in 2004 after a lackluster 2003 season. He realized what he needed to do to set him apart at the major league level, more than just natural ability. He started working out consistently with Tony Gwynn and in ’04 he hit .289 leading the league in triples and scoring 119 runs. Just the type of player the Phillies had envisioned when they drafted him in the second round of the 1996 draft. His hustle, speed, flash, and glove led him to be a phan favorite.
J-Roll established his legacy in Philly in 2007 when he declared the Phillies “The Team To Beat” in the NL East. Not only was it the kind of bold statement that South Philly loves but it was also a slap in the face to the rival New York Muts. Just the perfect combination of confidence, swagger, and trash talk. With 17 games to play in the season and the Phillies still seven games out of the division Jimmy was the driving force behind a mind-boggling baseball miracle. As the Phightins unbelievably clinched the division the last day of the season vs. Washington Jimmy showed us how he “J-Rolls” with 2 hits, 2 stolen bases, and 2 runs scored leading the Phillies to the division title. In ’07 Jimmy posted career highs including a .296 avg, 20 triples, 30 homeruns, 41 stolen bases, 96 RBIs, and 139 runs scored propelling him to 2007 NL MVP and supreme status in the city of Brotherly Love.
Always a loveable guy, a terror around the base paths, and a clutch hitter when the Phillies have needed it. Jimmy has productively been our leadoff hitter since 2001, as Jimmy goes the Phillies hitting goes. My head still hurts from screaming during J-Roll’s walk off double off Broxton in game 4 of the 2009 NLCS. It never felt so good to hug so many random people as 45,000 strong went bananas at the Bank. The last 2 years have been riddled with injuries and subpar seasons from our shortstop leaving some to wonder if he has anything left in the tank. In my opinion J-Roll is still worthy of being our starting shortstop and leadoff hitter. He can still field with the best of them and when healthy can still swipe bags. He has and always will be a Phillie for life and brought electricity to a team that desperately needed it. His love for the game is evident, watching him and Charlie talk baseball in the dugouts for innings is fun to see. Jimmy has earned every ounce of respect he gets in Philly and I personally look forward to seeing #11 leadoff the 2011 season on April 1st.