New Season begins with old streak

Part of the allure of baseball’s Opening Day is the idea of renewal. For at least one day every team is in first place and every team has a chance to win the World Series. It’s that baseball-as-a-metaphor-for-life wispiness that pervades public radio and Roger Angell’s dispatches from The New Yorker. All baseball fans get caught up in that saccharin sweet romanticism at one point or another.

It’s hard not to.

But this year’s Opening Day for the Phillies was marked by the notion of continuation or extension rather than rebirth. Actually, the baseball world had its eyes trained on the Phillies opener against the Cardinals to see if something that began last season could break the invisible force field of a new season in an idea that flies in the face that everything Opening Day represents.

We’re talking of the streak, of course.

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins coolly carried his epic, 36-game hitting streak that was momentarily halted for five months only to pick up right where he started. With a flair for the dramatic, Rollins dramatically added on to his streak by lacing a double to right field on a 3-0 pitch in his very last at-bat of the day to make 2005 morph into 2006. In fact, the build up to that final pitch offered to Rollins was so mind numbingly exciting that it made nearly everyone in the park forget that the Phillies lost by eight runs.

Think of it: Rollins’ streak could have ended if the pitch was just mere inches away from home plate. Rollins could have drawn a walk – a very good thing for a leadoff hitter to do – but his chance at making a run for immortality would have vanished into thin air faster than the trot from home to first base. He could have done his job yet been penalized for it.

Of course, it didn’t happen that way, but Rollins, unselfishly, says he would have taken the walk.

“If he would have thrown one I couldn’t get, I would have taken it,” Rollins said earnestly. “I wasn’t going to give the at-bat away. Luckily, he gave me something to hit.”

Do you believe him?

No, me neither.

Yes, we believe Rollins’ goal is to help the Phillies win games so they can finally advance to the playoffs. And yes, we believe that he is sincere in this sentiment. But if reliever Brad Thompson kept the 3-0 offering anywhere in the vicinity of the 215 area code, Rollins was going to swing.

Believe that.

That’s not a knock on Rollins. Au contraire. The very idea that Rollins is just as excited about his streak as the fans are is quite refreshing. Want to talk about it? Just walk up to Jimmy and ask him about it, he won’t be hiding in the training room to dodge the questions and attention. This is a once-in-a-lifetime feat. Why shouldn’t it be fun?

“It’s fun to talk about it,” Rollins said. “It’s brought a lot of attention to the team, which is the best part. As far as the streak goes, I’m not any more excited about it now than I was. I was blessed to be in this position and you have to be willing to accept that if you are in this position. That’s one thing I think I’ve been doing. You have to be willing to talk about it.”

Better yet, Rollins said if the streak becomes the focal point of the game and helps brighten the looming dark cloud brought about by the Barry Bonds steroid controversy, then bring that on, too.

“Hopefully, I can be a major part of what’s going on in baseball,” Rollins said. “Barry Bonds is going through a situation. He’s from the Bay Area, which is my hometown. Two stories are running together. Barry’s trying to accomplish something. I’m trying to accomplish something. He’s in a controversy. Right now, I’m on everybody’s good side. Hopefully, I can keep that going and going, and everybody can concentrate on what’s good about baseball.”

Certainly that can never get old.