Folk singer Joni Mitchell once famously summed up the difference between a painter and a performing artist. "Nobody ever said to Van Gogh, 'Paint a Starry Night again, man,'" she observed.

What, then, are we to make of the challenge that has been set before Jimmy Rollins as another spring training rolls around?

The Phillies' shortstop illustrated a baseball masterpiece in 2007. Statistics can be a trained pet that will perform whatever tricks are asked on command, but his numbers were still astonishing in many ways.

First player in the entire history of Major League Baseball with at least 200 hits, 20 triples, 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in the same season. Fourth player ever with 20 doubles, triples, homers and stolen bases, a select list that includes Hall of Famer Willie Mays. National League record for runs (139) and extra base hits (88) by a shortstop. Played in all 162 games. Drove in 94 runs . . . mostly from the leadoff spot. Declared the Phils as the team to beat and then backed it up by winning the Gold Glove, the Silver Slugger and, ultimately, the NL Most Valuable Player Award.

And as surely as the Phillies will hold their first official workout for pitchers and catchers today in sparkling Clearwater, Fla., all those accomplishments are now firmly stored in the past tense.

Hey, J-Roll. Paint a Starry Night again, man . . .

It's a daunting thought. Still, at age 29, he should be at the peak of his career. And if there's one thing he's demonstrated, it's that he's a player who doesn't shrink in the spotlight, that he can stand the heat in the kitchen. Heck, often as not he's the one who cranked up the thermostat.

Phillies hitting coach Milt Thompson spends as much time with Rollins as anybody. A year ago, when Rollins decided to spend less offseason time at his Northern California home and more in a South Jersey batting cage working on his game, it was Thompson who predicted a breakout season for a player who had made the All-Star team in three of his first six big-league seasons.

"He's on a mission," the coach said before the Phillies played their final Florida exhibition against the Pirates in Bradenton in late March. "He wants to go out and prove he's one of the best shortstops in the game."

Thompson is no less bullish this year. "He's looking great. Oh, my goodness," he said recently. "He's really found himself as a hitter over the last year. He can make adjustments, not just at-bat to at-bat, but pitch to pitch.

"We've been back at it since November. He's of the mind-set that there's room for improvement. One key thing is that he's learned how to 'catch' the baseball as a hitter. Not try to kill it or knock the cover off it, but trust his hands and just catch it with his bat."

Rollins, in town for the Philadelphia Sportswriters Association banquet in late January, appeared remarkably casual when asked what he could do for an encore.

"Win a World Series ring, I guess," he said. "I don't know. I don't worry about going out there and trying to do better next season. I put things out there for myself that I want to improve on and hopefully I improve on them. And if I do improve on those things and continue to be good where I've been good, I'll be better.

"I'd like to score more runs, steal third more, hit for a better average, make three or four fewer errors." He had 11 in 717 total chances. "Other than that, I don't know if there's much more I can do. But scoring those six, seven, eight more runs is probably going to take me stealing probably 10 to 15 more bags."

Charlie Manuel pointed out that Rollins' carefree exterior masks a fierce competitor.

"Jimmy doesn't show it a lot, but when he fails in a big moment, he detests that," the Phillies manager said. "That definitely bothers him and makes him more determined.

"Can Jimmy repeat? Yeah, I think he can. He just has to play the game the way he did last year. I say that all the time and it may sound corny. But he just needs to play the game the way he did last year, keep the same attitude, go about his business the same way.

"He's still young. He's got a lot of good years left in him. When you're that type of player and you're consistent, you'll always help your team and your numbers will be pretty close to what they are. Every now and then you'll see somebody like that have a bad year. Hank Aaron or even Ted Williams or somebody like that. But they'll bounce right back."

Most players talk about putting team goals first. Rollins seems to grasp the concept that if he just focuses on helping the Phillies win, all the personal glory will follow just like the second inning follows the first.

The fact that winning teams tend to get more attention also works to his advantage. "It's nice that people actually recognize who I am," he admitted. "It's no longer, 'Are you Brian Westbrook?' It's like, 'Yo, that's J-Roll!' So that's a big step forward.

"The hardware doesn't really mean as much as being recognized. That's just something they give you to put up on your wall. It's the fact that everywhere you go, walking around, people are saying 'MVP' rather than calling your name. I prefer that people just call my name, but it's nice just knowing that you've been [recognized] for something like that."

Said Manuel: "He likes being there. He likes that camera. He enjoys that. But that's who he is, and when he's up there in a big moment, that's when his talent comes out."

Added Thompson: "He really loved us getting to the playoffs. That's what drives him. Last year he said we were the team to beat. This year he said we should get 100 wins. People say, 'Man, why do you say that? You're putting pressure on yourself.' But he doesn't see it as pressure."

So it's probably not surprising, then, that so much of what he had to say before the banquet tended to drift away from talking about himself and toward what the Phillies hope to accomplish this season.

"It was nice having Alex Rodriguez talk about me, him being a former shortstop and one of the greatest players in the game today. Ever to play the game, really. But other than that, my mission is to win a World Series ring," he said.

"Everybody wants to be an MVP one day, but it's a team goal to win a ring. And I'm still short of that. So I still have work to do."

He insisted that his 100-win prediction is reasonable, not outrageous.

"We won 89 with a quarter of a team [because of injuries] last year. That's how I feel about it . . . If people stay healthy and just perform, we're going to be good," he said.

"We know we can get there. At first, the hunger was just trying to get there. Now it's working on how we can go further. We know it's a long road ahead of us, so we're not looking that far down the line. I'll guarantee you that. But we have answered the question, 'Are we a playoff team?' The answer is yes. We've done that. Now, how much better can we be in the playoffs? That's what remains to be answered."

A related question, of course, is what Rollins can do to follow up one of the best seasons a player has ever had.

But, starting now, he's working with a blank canvas. *