"We signed a very special kid (in 1996)," said general manager Ed Wade. "Words to describe Jimmy during his career in Philadelphia: class, energy, catalyst, a red-light player (the guy you want up in a big spot). Jimmy's prepared to go out and shine in the spotlight as someone who will lead us for a long time."
The red-light player will earn plenty of green -- enough to put him in Edgar Renteria territory -- through the rest of the decade. Renteria's name came up throughout negotiations, as Rollins sought a figure close to the four-year, $40-million deal Renteria signed with Boston during the winter.
Talks had started and stopped ever since Rollins first became eligible for arbitration after the 2003 season. They picked up steam near the end of Spring Training, but stalled. Not wanting the distraction, Rollins said he wouldn't talk about it again until the end of the season.
That equation changed once Rollins' agent, Dan Lozano, and Wade began to hash out the particulars. Rollins, who said that there was a definite possibility he would test free agency if something didn't get worked out this winter, was only brought in when things got close.
"Which player doesn't want to get to that point where he can say, 'I want to go play here and if this team pays me, I'm going,'" Rollins said. "At the same time, I wanted to stay in Philly -- that's where my heart is. [The Phillies] made a commitment to me. If I can't be happy with what they've given me, then I'm just being greedy."
None of that mattered when Rollins stood beaming from the podium at Citizens Bank Park. His team had just completed its best homestand in 50 years, and it was headed to play in Seattle and Oakland for the first time during the regular season.
In Oakland, Rollins will take the field a stone's throw from where he grew up and watched his idol, Rickey Henderson, play. Rollins has said that the lure of playing on the West Coast was and still is a consideration, though he's willing to put that dream on hold -- at least until he's 32.
"That's still a dream of mine, maybe the last year or two years, to go back where I first started playing baseball," Rollins said. "That's still something that I want to do. Hopefully I have a lot of time before that even comes about and my mind could be changed. We're winning right now and it's fun here. I like the fans. My heart is in Philly."
For now, his goal is to bring a World Series Championship to the East Coast.
Originally selected in the second round of the 1996 First-Year Player Draft out of Encinal (Calif.) High School, Rollins debuted in 2000 and began his legacy in his first at-bat, when he tripled. From 2001-04, he led NL shortstops in fielding percentage.
He made the NL All-Star team in 2001 and 2002, when he was voted in as the starter. This season, Rollins is hitting .263 with five homers, 19 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.
In late May of 2004, things began clicking for the switch-hitter, and he emerged as the catalyst the team had expected him to be. He started off slow in 2005, but has since found his stroke, emerging as a team leader on the level of Bobby Abreu, Jim Thome and David Bell.
"It's my turn to be a part of that crew and step up, so I guess I can't send you guys up to the big-money players anymore," he joked to reporters.
In addition to a $5 million signing bonus, Rollins will earn $4 million in 2006, $7 million in 2007 and 2008, and $7.5 million in 2009 and 2010. The pact includes an $8.5 million club option -- or a $2 million buyout -- for 2011 that potentially brings the value to $46.5 million.
One thing that Rollins' new wealth can't buy is a certain piece of jewelry. That he has to earn.
"The only thing that could be better is if we win the World Series," he said. "We're coming off the best stretch at home. I was proud to be part of that. It's like getting the cake, and waiting for the ice cream. That's the ring."