THEY ARE VERY different, they are very much the same. The lives of Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell have spun off in different orbits at times, but always seem to come back together again as if drawn by a magnetic force.
Once, they were Phillies teammates, together when the organization was on the cusp of accomplishing something special. Their roads diverged. Now they're back together again, teammates on a San Francisco Giants team set on upsetting the highly favored Phillies in the National League Championship Series that begins tonight at Citizens Bank Park.
Before that, they met on a high school recruiting trip to Cal State-Fullerton. Rowand enrolled and was ultimately drafted by the White Sox, winning a World Series on the South Side before being traded to the Phillies. Burrell decided to attend the University of Miami and was the first player drafted overall by the Phillies in 1999.
"Pat's one of my best friends, always has been. We met each other quite a long time ago and have been great friends ever since. To see him in the clubhouse every day, to walk in and see his ugly mug every day puts a smile on your face," Rowand said with a chuckle. "We have lockers next to each other just like we did when we were here. It's pretty special to be able to play with people who are close to you like that."
Said Burrell: "It's been great. We've known each other a long time and the experience of playing in Philly and getting into the postseason was a great one. And then coming back here and meeting up again has been great.
"Under the circumstances, I think we both agree that we wish he was in a bigger role for us here now. It's a funny game like that. But just having him around and being able to do our clubhouse stuff is fun."
The circumstances Burrell referred to are a tacit acknowledgement that the ebbs and flows of baseball fortune can be fickle at times. And no two players represent that duality better than these two outfielders.
Rowand arrived in San Francisco 3 years ago on a crest of hope, a proven winner brought in to breathe life into a sad-sack franchise. Now he rarely plays.
Burrell was acquired with an empty fishing hook cast into the baseball sea. He was out of baseball. He was 33 years old and having to confront the real possibility that his big-league career would be over. Instead, called up after signing a minor league contract, he turned out to be a catalyst for a stagnant offense, reeling off a string of big hits after joining the Giants.
Rowand insisted his reduced role doesn't make being back at The Bank a bittersweet experience.
"I would say more than anything else, the excitement of the postseason takes over," he said. "I knew when I signed in San Francisco that they were going to evolve into a winning organization. It all stemmed from the pitching, the guys that Pat and I faced when we were in Philadelphia. They were all very young, you knew they were going to be here for a while and you knew they were going to do nothing but get better.
"As it turns out, that's exactly what happened. For me, it's just about being here and trying to contribute in any way I can. Baseball is all about winning and ultimately putting a ring on your finger. And I think that's what drives any great athlete is to try to be a champion, regardless of the circumstances."
Rowand left the Phillies first, and on his own terms. An integral part of the 2007 Phillies team that advanced to the postseason for the first time in 14 years, he was lured to San Francisco by the security that a 5-year, $60 million free-agent contract offered. The Phillies were willing to match the average annual value, but for only 3 years.
Burrell hung around one more year, long enough to lead a parade down Broad Street. The confetti had barely been swept up before the Phillies made it clear there was no room left for their former No. 1 draft choice. He ended up signing with the Tampa Bay Rays as a designated hitter, a position it turned out he was ill-suited for, and was released last May.
Rowand paused when asked whether he had any regrets about leaving, considering that the Phillies have been a perennial championship contender ever since.
"That's a loaded question. As far as providing for my family, I'd say I made the right decision. Being an in organization that is on its way up and has now gotten back to the postseason, I made the right decision," he said.
"I think anybody that leaves an organization for whatever reason and then that organization wins the World Series the next year, you're going to look back and go, 'Wow, that would have been cool.' But I have no regrets. I cherish my time here in Philadelphia. Going to San Francisco opened a new chapter in my career, and I've been lucky enough now to get back to the postseason again."