CLEARWATER, Fla. - Above Aaron Rowand's locker, he has placed the baseball card of Braves ace John Smoltz, not Giants ace Barry Zito.

He's not even thinking about Zito, or opening the 2007 season by the Bay. He won't entertain the notion that he could be a Padre; that a trade on the table 2 months ago that would send him to San Diego for setup man Scott Linebrink could come to fruition during spring training if the Padres determine they have enough good bullpen arms and they need a centerfielder.

"Right now, the only thing I'm thinking about is John Smoltz on Opening Day," Rowand said. "It's just another rumor."

He has lived with rumors since he became a professional in 1998. As a prospect for the White Sox and as a more established centerfielder, Rowand's name often came up as a movable piece.

Then again, Rowand knows rumors can come true. After all, he landed in Philadelphia, shipped from Chicago with a pair of minor league pitchers for Jim Thome, less than a month after the White Sox won a World Series.

"I was in shock," said Rowand.

He won't ever be in shock again.

He learned of the possible Linebrink deal about 1 month ago when an uncle telephoned him from San Diego and said he'd heard about the possible move on local radio.

The radio report parroted an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune in which Padres general manager Kevin Towers acknowledged that the teams had discussed the deal but that the Padres were loath to make it, considering the spike in value pitchers underwent this offseason.

That night, Rowand and his wife, Marianne, had a 10-minute conversation.

"I always tell my wife, 'Don't sweat the small stuff,' " Rowand said. "We spoke about it briefly, and that was the end of it. I haven't thought about it since."

Certainly, the Phillies could use a setup man of Linebrink's caliber. Their bullpen is full of question marks, be it youth, inexperience or injury. However, what they would lose in Rowand could make the trade questionable.

It was Rowand who spurred last season's clubhouse karma that led to a late-season playoff push. He hosts team barbecues at his home in Boothwyn; in fact, with increased team unity in mind, he had his basement finished.

"There's going to be a lot more of that this year," he promised.

Rowand makes sure rookie and veterans alike are included in team functions, including the occasional mandatory team dinner on the road.

He also plays a fine defensive centerfield. He was briefly paired with Shane Victorino in rightfield after the trade of Bobby Abreu in late July. That pairing of speedy, fearless outfielders made the pitchers and manager Charlie Manuel very happy. Trading him would make them pretty sad.

"Defensively, it would make a big difference. With him in centerfield and Victorino in right, it showed us what defense meant to us," Manuel said. "His intangibles - you can't put a value on them."

He also has something of a connection with the city, even after one season.

He missed the last 6 weeks of last season with a broken right ankle suffered in a collision with Chase Utley as the pair converged on a fly ball. It was his second stint on the disabled list.

He became a Philadelphia legend on May 11, when he slammed into an unpadded portion of the centerfield fence at Citizens Bank Park making a game-saving catch in the first inning of a game against the Mets. He broke his nose and his left orbital bone. Blood streaming from the wounds, he begged to stay in the game.

He returned, scarred and bruised, only 16 days later. The injury clearly seemed to affect his hitting - he was at .310 before the crash hit .240 the rest of the season - but his value to the team's defense and its morale cannot be judged by a baseball card. *