It was on Sept. 17, 2000 against the Florida Marlins. The crowd at Veterans Stadium was 15,486. Jimmy Rollins walked in his first major league plate appearance and scored on a Bobby Abreu home run. His first hit was a triple into the rightfield corner in the third inning. He was 2-for-4 with two runs scored and a stolen base.
And he was already Jimmy.
"This has got to be my best day in baseball,'' he said with a wide grin. "I got my first major league game, first hit, first win, first putout, first assist, first run, first stolen bag. The only thing missing was an RBI. Really, I couldn't have asked for more."
The Phillies had wandered in a wasteland for nearly 15 years after going to the 1993 World Series. They wandered until 2007. They made the playoffs on the last day of the season that year, but everyone knows that the process began on a January afternoon at a media luncheon at Citizens Bank Park.
It was where Rollins claimed ownership in a way that a Phillies player had not done in forever.
"The Mets had a chance to win the World Series last year,'' Rollins said. "Last year is over. I think we are the team to beat in the NL East, finally. But, that's only on paper.''
Three words endure to this day: "team to beat.''
And they were.
It was controversial, because everything big that Rollins ever did was just a little bit controversial; he would not have it any other way. There were stat people who said that Rollins did not deserve the National League Most Valuable Player award in 2007. But baseball writers saw defense and they saw leadership to go along with the offensive numbers, and they voted for Rollins.
And the day he won, he took a special pride as an African-American player in an increasingly white sport. He said that he hoped African-American kids especially were paying attention.
He said, "I hope they one day say, 'I want to be Cy Young or I want to be MVP.' I know how black kids feel about baseball. I really do. They don't think it's street credible.
"It would be a sad day if one day we are - quote, unquote - extinct from this game.''
THE BIGGEST HIT
Everybody has their favorite. But it is hard to top Oct. 19, 2009. That was the night Rollins won a playoff game at Citizens Bank Park against the Dodgers. The Phillies trailed by 4-2 in the sixth inning and by 4-3 in the ninth inning before Rollins did it, rocketing a two-out double into right-centerfield that scored pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett and Carlos Ruiz and handed the Dodgers a deflating, 5-4 loss. It is impossible to forget it if you were there, or to forget that the Dodgers reliever was Jonathan Broxton.
"You kind of visualize, try to imagine where he's going to hit the ball,'' Brad Lidge said that night. He was in the Phillies' dugout when it happened, when Rollins made the miracle.
"You're thinking, 'Maybe in the gap or something,' " Lidge said. "You don't think it's going to happen. You're believing it's going to happen, but . . . it's incredible.''
No one knew that this would be the last great memory, but many suspected. It was June 14 of this year, the day when Rollins passed Mike Schmidt as the Phillies' all-time leader in hits.
You remember the scene, with Schmidt coming out as a surprise to retrieve the bat after Rollins' hit, and with the applause washing down upon them both. It was a moment that joined eras and that forever cemented Rollins in the franchise's pantheon.
"Since I was 4, you go to school and teachers ask you what do you want to do,'' Rollins said. "And I would tell them, 'I'm going to play baseball. I'm going to be a baseball player.' They would tell me the percentages and I would say, 'Well, that's fine. I'm one of those people in that small percent.' "
And so he was.
- Rich Hofmann