Jimmy Rollins Ready for a New Role, and One More Shot at October

[CSNBY] Jimmy Rollins ready for a new role, and one more shot at October
Alex Pavlovic

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jimmy Rollins was born and raised in the East Bay, but these days he lives in the Tampa area. The vast majority of the Rollins family still lives a bridge away from AT&T Park, however, and they're looking forward to possibly watching the longtime Phillies star play at home.

"My parents will be excited -- not for me, they get to see their grandkids," Rollins said. "I'm just like the sideshow."

That's rarely been a phrase used to describe Rollins, who is in camp as a non-roster invitee. He was an MVP in Philadelphia and spent a decade as one of the game's best shortstops, but the role now is a far different one. Rollins hopes to win a job as a backup infielder, meaning the lifelong shortstop will have to find a similar level of comfort at second and third.

"When you look at a guy with his career, one of the best shortstops of his era, he's being honest and realistic with his situation and he's looking forward to the challenge," manager Bruce Bochy said. "That's the biggest hurdle, I think. He's got the talent to do it."

Rollins said the adjustment to third won't be difficult, but it will be a little weird playing second and turning his back to runners. In that respect, he has come to appreciate a new slide rule instituted in large part because of former teammate Chase Utley. 

"Knowing that I can float around, I'm looking forward to it," he said. "Things are going to be different, not necessarily from the left side but from the right."

The Giants are hoping different also means improved. They're looking at an overhaul of their bench, and Rollins is part of a crowded group of veterans playing for a backup infield job. Conor Gillaspie, Kelby Tomlinson and Orlando Calixte checked into camp Wednesday and Korean third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang is expected to fight for time at third base. Bochy said Rollins, Tomlinson and Calixte will get time at short when Brandon Crawford goes to the World Baseball Classic, along with Eduardo Nuñez, the starter at third base. The coaches discussed the plan for backup infielders during the first staff meeting this week. 

"We have a good idea of what we could have," Bochy said. "We're going to stay open-minded, but we have our depth chart. As you see these games played, you're going to be able to figure it out."

Some in the group bring power, some bring speed. At his peak, Rollins provided both. But last year, he hit just .221 in 41 games for the White Sox. The year before it was .224 as an everyday shortstop for the Dodgers.

Rollins took a break after the White Sox released him on June 15. He played golf and took his kids to school and enjoyed his first Fourth of July in more than 20 years. He checked another box off the post-playing-days checklist by doing TV work, but Rollins said he never prepared to retire.

"No, no, I've been told to make them take the uniform off your back," he said. "I didn't wear it for long last year, but they didn't take it off my back yet."

Rollins told his agent to see what was out there. For the second straight offseason, the Giants offered a spring invite and a chance to win a backup job. He wasn't ready to embrace the role after the 2015 season, but a year later -- and a month after his 38th birthday -- Rollins signed with the Giants. 

The proximity to home was one draw, but Rollins, who watched a potential Phillies dynasty turn into a rebuild, said playing for a winner was just as important. The Giants knocked his Phillies out of the NLCS in 2010. Seven years later, their goal remains the same.

"That's what motivates me to come play, knowing every time you get out there on that field you're getting a step closer to the playoffs and to get to that point to win a championship," Rollins said. "This is a team that has proven that during their run this decade. I've been a victim to it. They're geared up to win right now, all the time, and that was very important."

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