ARLINGTON, Tex. – There was a moment after the Phillies' season opener Monday when it became clear just how differently Ryne Sandberg and Jimmy Rollins look at the art of hitting.
Rollins hit his 200th career homer -- and in dramatic fashion, it was a grand slam -- in the second inning of the Phillies’ 14-10 win over Texas (see game recap).
After the game, Sandberg said, “I guarantee you he wasn’t thinking about a home run there. It was just a compact swing with elevated results.”
A few minutes later, after he emerged from a lengthy round of postgame batting practice with Marlon Byrd and Ben Revere, Rollins admitted that, oh, yeah, he was thinking long ball in that situation.
“I was in the dugout right before that and was like, ‘It would be cool to have your first hit be a grand slam on opening day,’” Rollins said.
Sandberg knows Rollins’ place in Phillies' history. He knew Rollins entered the season 60 hits (now 59) shy of breaking Mike Schmidt’s franchise record. He knew Rollins entered opening day with 199 career homers.
How else do you explain this comment?
“I’m glad to get that one out of the way, but it came at a big time,” Sandberg said. “Now just line drive and get on base and run the bases.”
Sandberg is glad home run No. 200 is in Rollins’ rearview mirror. He doesn’t want Rollins thinking home run. He wants him working counts, thinking line drives, keeping the ball out of the air and using his legs, which remain a good weapon even at age 35.
Other managers have told Rollins this, including Larry Bowa and Charlie Manuel.
Rollins seemed open to it when Sandberg first spoke to him about the matter in August, but time will tell whether he adopts this approach.
“I don’t tell him not to hit home runs,” Sandberg said. “But I don’t want him to lift the ball and live in the air batting in the two hole. Not with his baserunning skills and being able to score runs.
“With his speed and where he hits in the order, leadoff or second, one of his biggest assets is his baserunning skills, which are off the charts. I’ve talked to him about getting on base and running the bases. Home runs will come, but I don’t want him to live in the air and think about home runs. That’s what he worked on in spring training, using the middle of the field and going the other way. The home run today was seeing the ball and reacting.”
Rollins enjoyed the home run. He knew it was a milestone.
“I remember growing up going to Oakland A’s games and looking at the size of Mark McGwire, and I was like, ‘I’m not going to hit too many home runs,’” he said. “I guess I proved myself wrong.”
Rollins played the game knowing he might have to bolt back to Philadelphia at a moment’s notice. His wife is close to giving birth to the couple’s second child.
“The baby let me go out there and play ball for a few more days,” Rollins said.