MLB: Phillies haven't folded, so Jimmy Rollins wants to stay

2:28 a.m. EDT June 23, 2014   ST. LOUIS - It was getting late, the kids were in bed, and Jimmy Rollins told his wife that he had a serious question for her.

"Babe, where do you want to go,'' Rollins, the Philadelphia Phillies veteran shortstop, asked Johari. "Detroit or Oakland?''

Johari grimaced, stared at him, and shot back: "New York.''

Rollins: "I didn't give you New York. I gave you Detroit or Oakland.''

Rollins, recounting the exchange over breakfast last week, still isn't quite sure that Johari has forgiven him.

"I thought it was funny, but she was genuinely upset with me,'' Rollins said. "Even when I said, 'Babe, you know I was just messing with you.'

"She said, 'I'm going to bed. Bye!'''

A week later, as the Phillies returned home Sunday night from their road trip to Atlanta and St. Louis, the jokes have stopped.

And so have the trade rumors.

The Phillies, who were supposed to be selling off for parts once the Braves and Cardinals got through with them, had other plans, winning five of seven games on the trip. They still are six games under .500, but are just five games out of first place.

"Everybody figured that after this road trip, we'd be done,'' general manager Ruben Amaro told USA TODAY Sports. "People figured we'd be selling, and we'll be breaking this team up.

"If they keep playing the way they can play, who knows, we might be thinking about adding at the deadline.''

In the words of starter Cole Hamels, who likely would bring the biggest return: "It's a tick-tock situation.

"Anything is possible.''

POWER RANKINGS: Phillies inch upwards

Sure, the Phillies still have flaws. Their young players still are scuffling. Ace Cliff Lee still is on the DL with no timetable to return. And closer Jonathan Papelbon is having an All-Star caliber season, but still can annoy teammates, with several grumbling aloud last week about his late arrival to the ballpark.

But for the time being, no one is going is anywhere, and certainly not Rollins - their longest-tenured player who told USA TODAY Sports that he currently has no interest in leaving.

"They would have to come up with a reason for me to leave,'' says Rollins, whose 15-game hitting streak was snapped Sunday, his longest since his 2007 MVP season. "I'm not saying it would never happen. I will be a free agent at some point.

"Now, if they tell me to go, then I got no choice. I'll go. If you make it that clear that you don't want me, you don't have to tell me twice.''

Rollins has the ultimate power.

He has full no-trade rights, and while his contract expires after this season, an $11 million option for 2015 vests if he gets 119 more plate appearances.

Rollins, 35, hopes to play beyond this contract, too, and unless he's bluffing, he never expressed desire to leave during our 90-minute talk.

Philadelphia is home, where his two kids were born. It's where his wife grew up and in-laws live.

"I'm not going to volunteer to go anywhere,'' Rollins says. "Even if somewhere else was the perfect spot, this is what I know. You weigh that against the instant gratification of winning right now. You leave, and there's no guarantee you're going to win anyways. You pack up to leave for a different organization, a different city, and it feels temporary.

"I can tell you that I have never honestly thought about waiving my no-trade clause.''

You want to know what Rollins is thinking about these days?

The San Antonio Spurs.

He couldn't take his eyes off the NBA championship series, and felt like pouring champagne over his own head when the Spurs beat the Miami Heat in five games.

"They destroyed them, just destroyed them,'' Rollins says. "I wanted them to destroy them. I needed that.''

This is coming from a guy who genuinely likes the Heat, roots for them against every team they play but his hometown Golden State Warriors, but he couldn't help himself.

"They remind me so much of ourselves,'' Rollins said. "They have their superstars. They have their young players. And they have a coach who protects his players.

"I hope our manager is that guy who protects his players, too. You do that, you're going to get the best out of your players.''

The relationship between Rollins and rookie manager Ryne Sandberg was rocky this spring, and perhaps he says, contributed to the Phillies' slow start. He was benched for three games in spring training, and summoned for a talk with Sandberg after uttering the words, "Who cares?" when asked about the Phillies' spring struggles. Rollins was stunned. The games don't count, he said, so it was silly to worry.

"In the beginning, there was a lot of pressure, everything was so tight,'' Rollins says. "It was a little like oil and water. We had a manager [Charlie Manuel] for nine years, knew his personality, and now Ryne comes in, and we have to learn him, just as he has to learn us. To come in here and try to change the culture, especially with a lot of veterans, there's going to be a lot of buck-back.''

Says Sandberg: "It was a learning process, and a coaching moment I think. It was setting the tone for expectations. Having some structure has gone a long way. He bought into it, and everyone is on board with it.''

And now, with the Phillies playing their best ball of the season, and no one showing any signs of running away in the NL East, Rollins can't help but dream.

"I really like what I'm seeing,'' Rollins says. "Everybody's pulling in same direction. The manager is opening up. The coaching staff is starting to relax. You keep grinding and grinding, and before you know it, we're skating.

"If we get to the playoffs, after everything we've been though, this might be our greatest accomplishment yet.

"So come on, why would I want to leave this?''

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