It was after the third inning of a Sunday afternoon game at The Vet on Sept. 17, 2000 when it was painfully obvious that Jimmy Rollins was never going to spend a minute in the minor leagues again. Only 21 that afternoon, Rollins hit a triple to lead off the inning for his first hit, but didn’t move too far from the bag afterwards as Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Travis Lee struck out in order to end the inning.
But the point was made. Rollins was a big leaguer. No longer did he have to defer to the likes of Desi Relaford, Tomas Perez and Alex Arias because he needed to spend time at Triple-A so he could get the chance to play every day. All Terry Francona—and then Larry Bowa—had to do was write his name in the lineup and let him go.
Actually, the third-inning triple was just for show. Rollins walked into the old clubhouse ready to go. There was no sense denying it any more.
Just about 10 years later, Rollins snuck a peak over at rookie Dom Brown as he fished through his locker for his batting practice gear, and was asked the same question. He’d sign his name on a bat, glance over at the 6-foot-6 outfielder, and then smile mischievously remembering what it was like back when he was trying to elbow his way into the big-league lineup for good.
“You’ll have to ask Ruben that,” Rollins said with a knowing smile when asked if Brown will ever have to go back to the minors to be a regular player.
In other words, the answer was no. Rollins didn’t say it because he didn’t need to. If the Phillies wanted to send Brown back to the minors for more seasoning, they had plenty of chances to do it by now.
So let’s ask the general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. about Brown’s immediate future.
“It would have been nice [to get Brown more playing time], but right now we’re trying to win as many games as we can and he has the ability to do some things that even if he’s not playing every day to help us,” Amaro explained. “He has the ability to run the bases and hit with some power from the left side as we’ve seen. He gives us the chance to have the best club out there.”
Certainly Brown is in a position Rollins never went through. When he came up from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to play shortstop he didn’t have to look over his shoulder or wait his turn. From Sept. 17, 2000 to today, Rollins has been the Phillies shortstop without question. In fact, there stands a good chance that the team will offer Rollins a contract extension simply because there is no one in the minors breathing down his neck. Plus, even though Rollins is the longest-tenured Phillie, it’s not like he’s old or getting old. He’s coming into his prime athletic years right now with contract that ends after the 2011 season.
“I’m only 31,” Rollins said. “And the only reason I’ve been here the longest is because Pat (Burrell) left. You have to give those guys credit for drafting guys, bringing them along and keeping them together.”
In other words, Rollins wants to stick around for a while. And who knows? Maybe if the right deal is struck Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels very well could spend their entire careers playing for just one team. Needless to say, in the free agency era players tend to bounce from team to team a lot so if the Phillies are able to keep their main guys together. It says a lot about the guys running the club and the players, too.
A few lockers down, the next great Phillie quietly prepared for a game where he might only get in to pinch hit. Interestingly, Brown has been called on to pinch hit as many times (9) as Rollins has since 2006. Chalk that up to an experience Brown will have when he is a veteran that guys like Rollins, Howard and Utley don’t know all that well.
Where they all have common ground is in the waiting. Like Brown and Rollins, Utley and Howard had to wait in line to get into the big leagues, too. For Rollins it simply was a matter of seasoning since it’s likely he could have skipped the 2000 season at Triple-A and hit .221 like Arias, Relaford and Perez combined for that year. But unlike those guys, Brown is attempting to establish himself on a team that went to the World Series for two straight years. Rollins joined a Phillies team that was on the way to 97 losses and replacing the manager. That’s about as different a situation as one can get.
In other words, it was a good idea for Rollins to spend the season playing for a team that went to the championship round of the playoffs. Just like it’s a good idea for Brown to take the ride with the two-time defending National League champs instead of dominating for a Triple-A club playing out the string.
Brown definitely will learn more in the big leagues than he would in Allentown for the rest of the season.
In the meantime, Brown will wait for his chance just like the other big guns on the team had to do. Of course before he realizes, he’ll blink and will be 10 years into his major league career just like Rollins.
“It feels like it was just yesterday,” Rollins said about that sunny Sunday in September of 2000 when he hit that first triple.
It always feels that way. No matter what.