ARLINGTON, Texas - The human lightning rod created the season's first electricity.
After being benched for three days in spring training for using two words - "Who cares?" - that infuriated his manager and the masses, another mini-controversy swirled around Jimmy Rollins on the eve of opening day.
With his wife, Johari, expecting the couple's second child, the Phillies shortstop did not accompany his teammates to Texas on Saturday night. He spent the night with his wife, and when he was sure his second child wasn't ready to arrive just yet, he made a solo departure on Sunday afternoon.
Rollins, at 35, is going to do things his way and he doesn't really care whether you, Ryne Sandberg, or anybody other than his teammates likes it. That doesn't mean he is going to be disrespectful or disruptive. It just means that he believes in himself. Confidence has never been an issue for the undersize kid from Northern California.
It's hard to argue with the results. You don't tie records held by Cal Ripken Jr. or pass Barry Larkin on the all-time home run list for shortstops without doing a lot of things right, and Rollins set both milestones Monday during the Phillies' wild 14-10 win over the Rangers at Globe Life Park. In the process, he provided a thunderous bolt of energy for an offense that had gone limp in the final three days of the exhibition season.
"I told you, he's a red-light player," Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa said. "He got us off the schneid real quick. I'm sure everybody was talking about those three games we got shut out and he got the big hit for us. He's done that his whole career, basically."
Thanks to a cue-shot RBI double by Cody Asche and a quality at-bat that ended with an RBI single by Ben Revere, the Phillies already had a 2-0 lead against Texas' Tanner Scheppers when Rollins stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the second. As he stood in the on-deck circle, he was thinking exactly what his manager thought he should not be thinking. Sandberg wants Rollins thinking about line drives. The shortstop had a more grandiose plan.
"I was in the dugout right before that and was like, 'It would be really cool to have your first hit be a grand slam on opening day,' " Rollins said.
After taking a pitch, Rollins lifted a middle-of-the-plate fastball into the right-field seats, giving the Phillies a 6-0 lead. The Texas-size smile on his face as he rounded third base seemed to say, "I told you when the games matter I'll turn it on." He wouldn't say it afterward, but when someone else suggested it, he didn't disagree.
"That was a line drive," Rollins said.
It just happened to clear the fence. It was the 200th career home run of his career and his 199th as a shortstop, allowing him to pass Larkin for ninth place on that all-time list. It came on the day that he joined Ripken as the only shortstops to make 14 consecutive opening-day starts for the same franchise.
When he's done, Rollins is likely to have more career doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases than Derek Jeter, but he'll never be mentioned in the same breath as the New York Yankees' captain because in addition to being a red-light player, he always has had the ability to make his managers and his fans red-faced with anger.
"He's a great player, no question," Bowa said. "It has been fun to watch him grow. I got to see him his first year and I got to watch him grow into what he is."
Bowa also has seen the controversies, including the one in spring training when Sandberg benched the three-time all-star for three days.
"It wasn't any different for me," Rollins said, his ubiquitous cool intact. "I just had three days off back-to-back-to-back. Other than that, it was a normal spring training - getting your work in, taking your ground balls, getting your swings. Some controversy, but pretty normal stuff."
Bowa wishes Rollins would choose his words more carefully.
"I think sometimes he might use the wrong words," he said. "I'm sure the 'Who cares?' was about him. I think he was saying, 'Who cares? I know I'm going to hit,' and it came out like 'Oh, we haven't won any games, so who cares?' "
Rollins doesn't care how you think it came out.
"The 25 guys on this team . . . that matters a lot," he said. "But once you get outside the clubhouse, if you have a good game they are going to love you and if you have a bad game, eh, they might not love you so much. As long as the players in the clubhouse respect me and I respect them and care, that's what it's all about."
More turmoil is sure to find Rollins before the season is over.
"He tells you what he thinks, and sometimes that's good," Bowa said. "He's playing in a tough town, and mentally he's tough enough to overcome any bad vibes the fans want to give him."
On that point, Rollins agrees.
"You have to have that mentality in this city," he said. "If you're soft, they'll wring you out. And my momma didn't raise me to be no soft dude."