With Jimmy Rollins, there were moments. There were always moments. Here was one:
It was 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 22, 2009, and the carpet covering the floor of the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park was so soaked with champagne that a little puddle formed with every squishy footfall. The Phillies had just beaten the Dodgers - the team that Rollins will play for next season - in the National League Championship Series for the second straight year. Two nights earlier, he had lined a two-run, two-out double in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the series' fourth game. Again, moments.
The Phillies then finished off the Dodgers in five, and their celebration had petered out by the time Rollins headed to his locker from the shower. He was in his 13th year with the organization, the Phillies having drafted him in the second round in 1996, and he was feeling introspective.
"When I got drafted, it was sad around here," he said. "Phillies? Huh? I had the Seattle Mariners. A-Rod was there. The Atlanta Braves - that was the [middle] of their run. Those were the two teams I spoke to. Seattle's like, 'If you go that late in the second round, we'll take you.' Atlanta said, 'If you keep dropping, we'll take you.' So when the Phillies got me, I was like: 'Who?' "
He talked that night about how the Phillies had grown from an afterthought to a juggernaut, about what it took for them to go from a team that had come close to reaching the playoffs to one that expected to win its division each year. It was Rollins at his best: insightful, honest, able to see what was in front of everyone's nose and willing to acknowledge it. The Phillies went 86-76 in his first full season with them, and back then, he said, "10 games over .500 was like 50 games over .500."
It will be again. The Phillies' decision to trade Rollins was necessary and, really, overdue. He was still a good player for them, reliable-to-spectacular in the field, relatively productive at the plate. But he was not the MVP-caliber shortstop he had been, and the Phillies' reluctance to admit to themselves that those glory days, with Rollins and Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, were gone has only made the long rebuilding period ahead even longer and more difficult.
For some perspective on just how long that process will take, consider this: The beginning of that great Phillies run, 2007, came six years after Rollins' rookie season and 11 years after they'd drafted him. He was the first member of that all-important homegrown core - Utley, Howard, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Madson - to arrive.
That era of Phillies baseball was his as much as it was anyone's. He was out there every day, compiling at least 600 plate appearances in 13 of his 14 seasons, a remarkable display of durability. He was here the longest and went through the most, and the combination of his staying power, his personality, and his ability to excel when the lights were brightest and hottest makes him arguably the most consequential athlete over the last quarter-century of Philadelphia sports.
At a time when most of his peers trafficked in antiseptic public statements or predictable lip service to this oh-so-sensitive fan base, Rollins was brazen enough to turn himself into a target and gifted with enough talent and timing to back up his words. His career here challenged the city's entire sports ethos. If you were fixated on Rollins' occasional lollygag to first base or his refusal to adopt the hitting approach of a stereotypical leadoff man, you might have taken for granted how he offset the cost of those indiscretions.
And so, moments. His declaration before the '07 season that the Phillies were "the team to beat" in the NL East. (Turns out, they were.) His courting the ire of Philadelphia fans by calling them "front-runners" during a TV interview in 2008. (Turns out, if you crunched the Phillies' attendance numbers over the previous 25 years, he was right.) That double play he started on the next-to-last day of the '08 season to send the Phillies to the playoffs and sent them on their way to the World Series. That game-winning double against the Dodgers in '09, when he sized up Jonathan Broxton from the on-deck circle, watched Broxton get pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs to pop up a slider for the second out, and understood that there was no way he'd see the same pitch.
"Dobbs is coming off the bench, trying to get that first fastball," Rollins said after that game, "and to counter that, to make sure you see what a guy's doing, you throw a pitch that you can throw for a strike that's not a fastball. But I'm a different hitter than Greg Dobbs."
That was Jimmy Rollins, too: observant, smart, just arrogant enough to think he'd be the one to start changing everything about baseball in Philadelphia. Which he did. There are worse legacies to leave. There might be none better.