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Metro exclusive: Jimmy Rollins goes to bat for Ryan Howard

Jimmy Rollins went one-on-one with Metro to talk about the state of the Phils, Ryan Howard, the hall of fame and growing up a baseball-mad kid in Oakland.

Jimmy Rollins is now the longest tenured athlete currently playing in Philadelphia. Credit: Getty Images Jimmy Rollins is now the longest tenured athlete currently playing in Philadelphia. Credit: Getty Images

Jimmy Rollins is the dean of Philadelphia sports. The Phillies all-time hits leader is the longest tenured professional athlete in town. J-Roll, who laughed when reminded of his status, isn’t just a Philadelphia sports icon. If his numbers continue to impress and his list of accomplishments grow, an argument for Rollins becoming enshrined in Cooperstown will be made.

It’s hard to believe but you’ve lived here about as long as you resided in California.

It’s true. I grew up there and left when I was 17, which is about as long as I’ve been with the Phillies organization.

People still talk about you going back to California. When you play against the Giants on national television, it’s not uncommon to hear, ‘Jimmy Rollins is just a long drive from his beloved hometown of Oakland.’

That’s a long flight (laughs). I love that bay bridge. I love that drive. It’s a new bay bridge . It’s real nice. But I love living in the Philly area. It’s home.

How does it feel to be the dean of Philly sports?

It’s been great. i haven’t had to change my address for a long time . I bought a family house, I’m a family man. I have not had to deal with a lot of change I’m here.

You’re going into the last year of your contract.

I’m not worried about that. I know the organization. They know me, from top to bottom.

You were in the middle of the greatest run in the history of this 132-year old franchise.

I was definitely part of it. I was also part of it before the run started and now I’m part of it now that the run is over.

You're so matter of fact about that. You’ve always been very even keel.

I’m not very emotional when it comes to baseball. I don’t know why. I’ve never really been that way. It’ll probably hit me when I retire. Charlie (Manuel) says it hits you when you look back. Then I’ll probably say, ‘wow, that was really cool.’ But I can’t look at it now. I’m still in the middle of all of this. I just have a hard time getting emotional when it comes to baseball.

Did you break down when you lost baseball tournaments as a kid?

I cried the first time we lost a championship game. It was hard the first time dealing with that. You can’t believe you lost when you’re a kid. You’re heartbroken. You break down and then you heal and you don’t cry again. You mature. You try to do better next time.

Your buddy Ryan Howard has taken a lot of heat. Fair or unfair?

All I know is that we don’t go on that run without him. He was in the middle of all of that. Every September he would go on something like a 23-game tear. Not a lot of guys can be that anchor in the middle of the lineup. Look at him now. He still drives in a lot of runs. He has always had a knack for driving in runs. You look at his average this year. Who else bats (.223) and drives in that many (95) runs? I still believe in him.

Have you looked ahead at next season?

I haven’t looked at it yet. But I will say one thing that I really like on this team is the arms in our bullpen. We have a really good bullpen. Look at our run and the bullpen was a huge part of it. We did have the offense and Cole was developing and we brought in some very good pitchers and had the run. But the bullpen was huge on those teams. We’ve built the foundation for something with this bullpen. I truly believe that. This bullpen has velocity and they throw strikes, which is great.

What’s your take on Cole? This was the best season of his career but he had no support.

He was absolutely phenomenal. I feel sad for him. A lot of the times he was matched up with the other team’s number one. He was absolutely filthy every time out. His velocity was at 94, 95. I wanted to get him three or four runs every time out. That was more than he would need. I wish he could have pitched with more leads. But he’s come into his own. He’s a grown man now.

Do you really believe a team with such an old core can win a championship?

It’s tough but you look at the 2009 Yankees. They were filled with stars that were 36, 37. It happens. Things can come together.

When you watch the playoffs, do you find yourself watching the Northern California teams you grew up with?

I follow any team from the San Francisco area. I don’t do it with the same intensity as I did as a child but I watch the A’s and the Giants. I can’t help but pay attention to what they’re doing.

Some of your peers say they never watched much baseball when they were kids since they were always playing.JP Crawford, for example, said exactly that. But you were different, correct?

I watched baseball all the damn time. I would come home and watch WGN. I would watch those Cub games since they were on right after I got home from school and I would watch Ryne (Sandberg). I told him, ‘I watched you play all the time and you never bunted.’When I would play ball in my neighborhood, I would come in and take a minute break to watch (Rickey) Henderson bat. When he was done I would come back out and play.

You didn’t stay to watch Rickey run?

No, I couldn’t hold up a 5 on 5 game of baseball forever. I just went in for a bathroom break or so I said.

You became a leadoff hitter just like your hero.

Yeah, but it was a little different than Rickey. I was never a leadoff hitter until I got to professional baseball. But even then I was in the 2-hole a lot. Reggie Taylor was usually the leadoff hitter when I was in the minors. It all worked out.

If you have a typical J-Roll year in 2015, you’ll be close to 2,500 hits. As the years pass a strong argument can be made for your enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. What do you think?

It’s hard to think about that since I’m still in the middle of this. But if that ever happens, it would be incredible. But I just look at what I have accomplished. I accomplished a lot with the Phillies. It’s been absolutely amazing being with this franchise and being able to play before the fans of Philadelphia.

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