HAMPTON – You will commit errors and make mistakes, the All-Star shortstop and one-time National League Most Valuable Player told a couple of dozen youngsters hanging on his every word, so there's no point in worrying about the inevitable.
Play fearlessly, the Philadelphia Phillies' Jimmy Rollins said, because if you think about making errors, you will make more than you would by simply playing.
Rollins was a guest instructor at the Virginia Baseball Academy on Saturday as a favor to longtime friend and former Phillies' teammate Wayne Gomes.
"It isn't often that I do clinics," Rollins said. "I usually do a lot of traveling in the off-season. That's my time to get away from baseball. But whenever you have a good friend who's doing something good, just give me a call, pretty much."
Rollins only last week returned from a nine-day goodwill trip to Uganda, where a Ugandan Little League team played a Canadian team. The teams were supposed to meet last summer in Williamsport, Pa., at the Little League World Series, but the Ugandan team was denied travel visas because players lacked birth certificates and proper documentation.
Rollins was touched by an ESPN documentary about the plight of the Ugandan team and tweeted about it. He later was contacted by a humanitarian group called "Right to Play," which organized a trip by that same Canadian LL World Series team to Uganda.
Rollins was joined on the trip by, among others, free-agent first baseman Derrek Lee and former major leaguer Gregg Zaun. He described the experience as, "Awesome."
"If this facility was over there," Rollins said, referring to Gomes' academy, "those kids, the way they learn, the fearlessness with which they play, I think they'd be better than (American) kids at this age, because their mentality is, 'I'm going to make a mistake and it's OK to be wrong.' We grow up with, you have to be perfect before you do it.
"With the way (Ugandan youngsters) think and that learning curve, they'll actually end up better faster. Now, the talent level is equal. It's just the way that they go about learning, with the fearlessness that will give them an edge, from what I saw. They don't get a chance to practice. It's just strap up, play catch and then go play a scrimmage game. That's what they do."
Rollins' trip to Uganda reinforced his own approach and love for the game. Much as he needs and enjoys the time away from baseball, he is itching to return to a Phillies team that again should contend for a World Series title.
Last month, the 33-year-old shortstop and the Phillies agreed to a contract extension – a three-year, $33-million Christmas stocking stuffer. He sought a five-year deal, but the two sides settled on three, with an option for a fourth year based on reasonably attainable performance criteria.
If Rollins plays out the length of the deal, which he fully expects, that will take him to age 37. He doesn't see himself retiring at that point and aims for one final contract, body and spirit willing.
The 2007 NL Most Valuable Player missed significant time each of the past two seasons. In 2010, he had two calf strains that limited him to a career-low 88 games. Last year, there was a late-season groin injury that all but shut him down for the end of the regular season, though he returned with a strong Division Series performance.
The mental recovery from the 2010 injuries, Rollins said, lasted well into the 2011 season, even though he was physically healthy.
"You play the rest of the season not to get hurt," he said, "and it's less about baseball than, is it going to happen again? It's less about stealing a bag. It's about, if I try to steal a bag, will I get hurt? Or, if I try to stretch a single into a double, is it going to happen again?"
Rollins has become smarter about his body and what's required to perform at peak levels as he ages. Sufficient sleep, eating breakfast, proper nutrition – things he took for granted a decade ago.
Though his offensive numbers have ebbed a bit since his MVP season, he remains a solid producer and above-average glove. He is a career .272 hitter and has become part of the sporting landscape in Philly, where he has played all 13 major league seasons.
Rollins is fifth in franchise history in games played (1,636) behind Mike Schmidt, Richie Ashburn, Larry Bowa and Tony Taylor. He is third in at-bats (6,858), fourth in hits (1,866), runs (1,080) and total bases (2,964).
Most important, he has seen the transformation of the franchise. Aggressive ownership and a new ballyard – now eight-year-old Citizens Bank Park – turned an organization that for years hovered around the .500 mark into an annual championship contender and a free-agent destination.
The Phillies supplemented home-grown talent such as Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley with free agents such as Jim Thome, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.
"It became all about winning and creating an environment," Rollins said. "Ownership creating an environment, fans creating an environment, where teams on the other side of the diamond felt that. When you have a winning franchise with that environment, with the revenue that the team brings in, you have to put it on the field. And that's one thing that has changed with our owners – they definitely spend money on the field."
Though Rollins doesn't forsee the end of his career just yet, when he finishes playing he envisions staying connected with baseball by working with kids.
"That's where you have to get them," he said. "You have to get them when they're young, when they still like the game and before other sports and other things really become attractive to them. If you can instill that love and passion for the game, along with proper coaching, it can take them a lot of places."
Phillies' all-star Rollins tells kids to play without fear
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