Rollins enters AFL Hall of Fame
Enshrinement continues whirlwind for Phillies shortstop
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Just about every player who participates in the Arizona Fall League likes to say the elite circuit is a stepping stone in his career. For some, the experience never turns out to be quite the launching pad they hoped it would be.
Then there's Jimmy Rollins.
The Philadelphia shortstop arrived in Arizona in the fall of 2000, just a few days after he had made a fairly impressive Major League debut with the Phillies. He was playing for the Maryvale Saguaros under manager Tony Pena when Philadelphia's new skipper, Larry Bowa, dropped in to check out one of his hot prospects.
"Tony Pena told me, 'Your manager is going to be here this week, so I'm going to play you,'" Rollins recalled Wednesday night at Scottsdale Stadium. "Hopefully, you can impress your manager, and I did. I left an impression on him when he was here. I know I still had Spring Training [in 2001], but I think I made the team here."
Rollins did indeed make the Phillies in 2001 and has been making an impression ever since. He helped lead Philadelphia to its first World Series title in 28 years last month. He also learned earlier Wednesday that he won his second consecutive Gold Glove.
But that's not why he made the trip back to Arizona on this chilly November evening. Rather, Rollins, for what he's accomplished in the Major Leagues as an AFL alumnus, was awarded the circuit's highest honor when he was inducted into the Arizona Fall League Hall of Fame.
"It was definitely a surprise when I found out about this," Rollins said. "[Former Phillies general manager] Pat Gillick told me about it and the first thing I thought of was, 'What in the world did I do there.' But I came and played in this league and I was blessed with success in the big leagues.
"It's a testament to this league and the great prospects they have here. When I came here, I was excited to be here. I had just been called up to the big leagues and everyone was like 'Look, Jimmy is here.'"
The AFL Hall of Fame was created in 2001 to honor the league's top alumni, both players and managers, who went on to achieve success in the Majors. Rollins joins Garret Anderson, Jermaine Dye, Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Giambi, Shawn Green, Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Torii Hunter, Derek Jeter, Derrek Lee, Troy Percival, Mike Piazza, Albert Pujols and Alfonso Soriano in the Hall.
Eric Wedge last month became the eighth Major League skipper to be enshrined. His predecessors were Dusty Baker, Terry Francona, Grady Little, Ken Macha, Jerry Manuel, Tony Pena and Mike Scioscia, all of whom came through the AFL as managers.
"There aren't many players that would do this [come to Arizona after winning the World Series]," AFL executive director Steve Cobb said. "It says an awful lot about his character and his humility. I can't speak for him, but I think he had a positive experience here and he knows what this league is all about. He took time out of his busy schedule and didn't need to do this.
"And there isn't a player on either team here tonight that doesn't know who this man is. Most of the players that come here feel this is a special place to be. You're selected by your organization to be here. Usually, they are good makeup guys. Philadelphia has always sent high-quality, high-character guys."
As for the Gold Glove, Rollins was truly touched. He considered the award an honor and pointed out that "it's been quite a few weeks."
"There have been a lot of years that I thought I had a good defensive year and I felt I was overlooked," Rollins added. "You want to get your respect and you want to win. And this year I was hurt [early], but I got right back to it. And it's a good thing that we have ground-ball pitchers.
"I won my first one in 2007. You hate to lose it once you've become a Gold Glover. I had a consistent year defensively and it also helped that I was on a winning team. You get spoke about more often and are on the highlights on ESPN."
Rollins led the National League with a .988 fielding percentage and a career-low seven errors in 593 total chances. He is the first Phillies shortstop to win the award in consecutive seasons and first Philadelphia player to do so since Scott Rolen in 2000-01.
Accepting his AFL Award -- there will be a plaque with his likeness and accomplishments in the AFL Hall of Fame on the concourse of Scottsdale Stadium -- was just part of a whirlwind few weeks for Rollins. He's got some traveling to Puerto Rico and Hawaii on tap as well as a stopover in Tennessee to see his sister play college basketball.
And after resting up for the holidays, he said he'll be gearing back up for Spring Training. Rollins says by then, what he and the Phillies have accomplished probably will begin to set in. Oh, and despite winning, he wouldn't be surprised if Philly is an underdog again next season.
"They'll probably pick us like the fifth favorite or something," he laughed.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.