Rollins Is Ready For Hitting Streak Pressure

For five months now, Jimmy Rollins has been sitting on 36 - a 36 game hitting streak that is. In another month, he'll look to extend the streak and possibly go after Joe DiMaggio's 56 game streak. Rollins knows there will be a glare of spotlights and life will become very much like living in a fish bowl, but he's ready for it.

With the Phillies in the heart of a wild-card fight last September, shortstop Jimmy Rollins took a modest, late August hitting streak and turned it into a monster through the end of the season. By the time the season ended, Rollins had picked up hits in 36 straight games and batted .400 in September/October.

The only thing he couldn't do was drag his team across the finish line ahead of the Houston Astros.

That Rollins, who had never hit above .282 entering last season, put together the majors' longest hitting streak since Paul Molitor's 39 game run in 1987 was surprising when you analyze it carefully. Rollins, after all, doesn't vie for hitting crowns and doesn't have a slap-hitter's swing.

What allowed Rollins to overcome some of the classic traits he lacked for his journey was his overwhelming confidence, a bravado so shameless that sometimes he even grins at the sound of the bold words leaving his lips.

Whereas hitting streaks of such length can cause some hitters to feel the pressure mount with each unsuccessful at-bat, Rollins rarely let the drama build. He routinely collected his streak-extending hits in the first or second at-bats, and he had no more than two close calls from the time the streak reached double digits.

"When the pressure was on, I definitely showed up to play," Rollins said of the end of 2005. "That's something I look forward to doing from day one, but sometimes it doesn't happen until the last 30 games. When the bell rang, I was out there doing my job. That's one thing I like. I think I knew it about myself, but it's nice to go out there and prove it."

Rollins will probably make 75 or more plate appearances in Grapefruit League games this spring. However, when he steps into the batter's box in the bottom of the first inning for the Phillies in their season-opening game against the Cardinals on April 3, that 36-game hitting streak that was placed in storage for six months will be brought out and cranked up.

With eight more games with at least one hit, Rollins would match Pete Rose and Willie Keeler for the second-longest streak in major league history. After that there is only one more threshold to reach, the Mount Everest of the record books, one that the steroid controversy couldn't taint: Joe DiMaggio, 56 games.

If Rollins keeps his streak going through the opening week, the attention paid to it will mount exponentially. The media circus would begin, the one that grayed Roger Maris' hair and wore on Hank Aaron's every nerve.

As for Rollins, his reaction to a potential avalanche of women, men and machinery following his every sound and movement is along the lines of, "Where have you been?"

"Why not?" Rollins said, stunned to hear someone ask if he'd want the attention. "That's what I'm here for - hopefully to do something special, to do something that hasn't been done in a long time. And if that happens, it's fine."

"Everyone wants to be that man at least once in their career, and if I'm that guy then I'm going to relish it."

Actually, not everyone wants to be that man, but Rollins is craving it. When it was suggested that he might need to take a leadership role now that Jim Thome is elsewhere, Rollins said, "That role never left me. I've always been a leader. (Thome) was getting paid the most money, so of course from the outside he's going to be the leader. But everybody plays a leadership role."

In case you want to mark your calendars, if Rollins were to play in every game at the start of the season and extend the hit each night, he would tie DiMaggio's record on April 25th at Citizens Bank Park and look to break it the following night, also at home. The opponents both nights would be the Colorado Rockies.

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