Rollins Will Give Up Highlights For Wins

For two winters now, Jimmy Rollins has worked with hitting great Tony Gwynn. Last season, the lessons Gwynn gave to Rollins seemed to roll off of Rollins like water off a duck's back. Finally, it looks like the student finally gets it and it may have taken a division rival to slam the message home to the young shortstop.

Jimmy Rollins career so far can be traced back to the fact that he's of what I call, The ESPN Generation. He grew up watching the highlights on ESPN and saw what sells. If you haven't noticed it, watch the highlights of baseball sometime. It's dazzling defensive plays – heck, Baseball Tonight has a standing Web Gems feature – and long homeruns. Drop a key bunt to move runners or beat out a drag bunt and if you're lucky, it's mentioned in the narration while the video moves to the next guy hitting a towering homerun. Most times though, it's not even mentioned. It's certainly not shown.

With the definition of The ESPN Generation in mind, look at Jimmy Rollins career. The defense is dazzling. He dives, he throws, got him! He turns a dazzling double-play at second while jumping over the sliding runner; got him! Then, he comes to the plate and he's swinging for the fences.

After the 2002 season, Jimmy Rollins spent time learning the art of hitting from Tony Gwynn. He might as well have spent the winter watching old videos of Mike Schmidt's career. In fact, you'll remember that last spring, Rollins sat down with Schmidt and was told "bunt". That lesson too went unheard. Rollins mind flipped back to the ESPN highlights.

After the 2003 season, Jimmy Rollins again spent time learning the art of hitting from Tony Gwynn. This time around though, he had added inspiration. Coming into the sessions, Rollins had just completed watching the Florida Marlins win the World Series. More specifically, he had just seen Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo play small ball and lead the Florida Marlins to the World Series Championship. The light bulb was finally screwed in tightly when Rollins met with Gwynn. The future Hall of Famer – Gwynn, not Rollins – flipped the switch and the light came on. How do we know? "A light switch came on," Rollins said. "I think watching the Marlins and the way they played helped me realize that." See, the light is on!

"Tony has worked with me on going with pitches," said Rollins, whose three straight seasons of triple-digit strikeouts and his propensity to hit fly balls have been his main flaws. The Phillies should really consider retiring Tony Gwynn's number if Rollins comes through with Gwynn's plan this season. Gwynn could well be the Phillies MVP.

Rollins may get it now after the World Series and his sessions with Rollins, but he probably still can't comprehend just how good he can be. Nobody truly knows that. The fact is that he can be better than Juan Pierre or Luis Castillo. He's already better defensively and if he starts to sling in some hits the other way and drop some key bunts here and there, Rollins will eclipse the status of either of the Marlins sparkplugs. In other words, watch out for Jimmy Rollins in 2004.

By the way, center fielder Marlon Byrd also spent considerable time with Mr. Gwynn this winter. Like Rollins, Byrd believes that Gwynn has made him better simply by instilling a new attitude. Like Rollins, Byrd also worked on going the other way with pitches and should be a different hitter this season.

Question for the Phillies: Why is Larry Bowa headed to Clearwater to work with Pat Burrell? There are other options. Dare I say better options? How about Charlie Manuel, the guy that Jim Thome has credited with making him into the power hitter that he is today? How about Mike Schmidt? Burrell was impressed with the way Schmidt worked with him in spring training in 2002. The two have developed somewhat of a friendship and their styles are pretty similar. Plus, Schmidt went through a horrid season early in his career, much like Burrell did in 2003. Or, how about Greg Gross, the guy that Pat Burrell insists had the best advice for him during his 2003 slump? Gross may not have the credentials that Manuel or Schmidt have, but he does have Burrell's trust and attention. Don't discount the trust and attention angle. Keep in mind too, that of anybody in the organization, Larry Bowa definitely does not have Burrell's trust and/or attention. Let us not bring up the unfortunate Tyler Houston episode of last season.

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