About that possible music-business career, he’s learned a lot in a short time: “One, sharks are swimming everywhere in the music business; and two, producing music is too time-consuming. Buying publishing rights is the way to go. You settle on a price for a song and you build a catalog. You hope one day that catalog will make you money.”
When the conversation turns to the diminishing number of blacks in baseball, it’s clear he takes the problem personally. He hasn’t been surrounded by many black players in past seasons, and he says that at first, he couldn’t wait to get to cities that did have them. It’s lonely when you don’t have people who share your way of talking, your culture, your music—“and maybe especially a shared understanding of what it took for us to get here.” There are now four African-Americans on the Phillies, and for a short time there were five.“Guys on other teams would joke, say, ‘Spread it around a little, will ya?’” he laughs.
Rollins says baseball programs for inner-city kids, like the RBI program, which has had success in Compton, California, are great, but on their own won’t attract large numbers of black kids to the game. Baseball, according to Rollins, needs to be marketed as a lifestyle, one that emphasizes style and flair and fun. “The line I’ve always heard is, ‘We don’t do that kind of thing in baseball,’” he says. Baseball preaches tradition, that things need to be done in a certain way.
“You think black kids going to relate to that?” WANT TO KNOW WHY Jimmy Rollins is so centered?
His very earliest memory of growing up in Northern California is of being hoisted up on his father’s shoulders so he could see over the fence and watch his mom play softball.
A major figure, Mom. A onetime star middle infielder for her church’s women’s fast-pitch softball team. A speedster on the bases. A sure-handed glove who could hit for extra bases. Played the game with verve and grit and style and a smile.
Mom would round first base after getting a hit and flick off her cap à la Willie Mays to make the other team think she might take second. And sometimes she did.
There were three Rollins children, all three major athletes. Jimmy was the middle kid, the one who learned to play baseball at Mom’s side. He would practice fielding ground balls after her games at the age of six. Took seriously her dead-eyed challenge, repeated often, to become a better ballplayer than she was. It wasn’t until little Jimmy was in the big leagues that Mom finally admitted that, okay, maybe her son was better. Maybe.
Dad was a big guy, six-foot-one and strong. He once dead-lifted 701 pounds. He might not have had the big personality of Mom, but his influence was not to be underestimated. Everyone assumed little Jimmy would be big like Dad.
But little Jimmy stayed little and stopped growing at five-foot-seven, so his father and mother reminded him that size was no object. He could be whatever he wanted to be. Nothing could stop him. So little Jimmy played big. Why not? Nothing could stop him.
Dad had been a wrestler and a track star. Taught him to approach a baseball season like a long-distance run. He learned when to work out hard, when to let his body recover, when to turn the jets up high. Like his dad, he learned to keep his workout schedule and regimen to himself and not to care if people thought he didn’t work out hard enough. It’s nobody’s business. What matters are results.
Fairness and compromise ruled the day in the Rollins household. The result was affection and order. It shows in how he talks about his parents, his brother and sister, and how he remembers his early days on the sandlots. He talks of the Oakland A’s of his childhood as though they were neighbors—“It was like I could hear them playing”—and of how he feels when he returns to his old stomping grounds—“like I belong here, like it’s waiting for me.” And there’s this one story.
Jimmy’s father often worked the swing shift in the computer and mail rooms at Clorox, which meant he’d sometimes come home late at night. But no matter what time he came home, he’d wake the kids up, if only for 30 seconds or so, huddle them together, and have them sing to their mother before she went off to sleep.
“The song was ‘Don’t Know Why I Love You But I Do,’” says an all-grown-up Jimmy Rollins, humming a few bars. “Like yesterday, I remember it.”
EARLIER IN HIS CAREER, Jimmy Rollins was big on promises.
“When I got here in 2000, the team hadn’t won in a long time. But my promise was that I would play for a winner. I made that promise to my mother and to myself. But for years that promise got pushed to the back burner. For a long time the organization wasn’t breeding a winning atmosphere. It was like, ‘Okay, we may not be the best team out there, but we’re going to run the bases well.’ I remember thinking, ‘Wait, it’s going to be about how well we run the bases? Really?’”
“But then you go, well, okay, the Braves are a real dynasty, we’ll never beat the Braves, so we might as well run the bases well. For years it was like that. But then, you know, it became the Mets we had to beat. And you know, I said that thing about us being better than the Mets, and though it was taken out of context, I didn’t care. I knew we could beat the Mets. It’s funny, you want something really bad, like your promise to win, and then it gets cloudy, but then the clouds start to dissipate, and you go ahhhhh, here it comes, that moment, and you get to fulfill that promise, and then you just want to do it all again.”
Rollins won’t be making any last-minute headline promises about the Phillies this time around. That’s not what veterans do.
It’s about getting the job done.
When I ask him how he’s enjoying this season, if he ever steps back and allows himself to appreciate the excellence of this team, the fact that he’s playing on a team for the ages, he doesn’t miss a beat.
“Sometimes, it’ll happen,” he says. “Cliff or Roy will be throwing a gem out there, we’ll be running off the field after a third out, and that’s when it’ll happen. I’ll turn to Chase and say, ‘Are you seeing this?’”
And that’s the only time you allow yourself to indulge in the splendor of this wondrous baseball season?
“Yep, and that lasts about 10 to 15 seconds each time. Inside my head, I’m like, Woo! But soon as we hit the dugout, it’s off with the glove and back to work.”
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