Side by side they sat at the podium, Jimmy Rollins to the left and Ryan Howard on the right, talking about how they always believed they’d be champions some day.
From the time they got to town, they heard all about how impossible that kind of dream has always seemed to be in Philadelphia, where the Phillies have lost more games than anybody in baseball during their tortured history.
Rollins and Howard, who are as dangerous as a duo as any tandem in baseball, scoffed at the negativity around town and held fast to their belief that they could become winners. Now, everyone else in Philadelphia believes, too.
“When I first got drafted to this organization,” Rollins said, “I kind of vowed to myself that I was going to try to change the face of it. And change the way people think about the Phillies.”
Rollins came up to play shortstop for the Phillies at the end of the 2000 season, bringing a ton of offensive excitement and a great glove along with him.
Howard arrived four years later to play first base, with a booming bat that keeps driving in runs and hammering homers.
“I didn’t want to be associated as a loser,” Howard said. “I don’t think anybody in that locker room wanted to be associated with that type of label.”
They both said they listened to the negative talk, from doubting fans who kept reminding them that the first and only world championship the Phillies won before this season came in 1980.
Plenty of good baseball players were in the Phillies lineup before and after that.
They never brought the kind of hope with them that Howard and Rollins provided.
Maybe that’s because the current dynamic duo of the Phillies grew up so far away from Philadelphia, they were oblivious to the fact that the Phillies are supposed to be tormented in terms of success.
“I was growing up in California, watching the A’s,” said Rollins, a native of Oakland, California.
“I grew up watching the Cardinals, for the most part,” said Howard, a St. Louis native.
Together, they have sure been something for Phillies fans to watch.
Since he became a full-time starter in the big leagues, Rollins has experienced just one losing season since 2001. Howard, the National League Rookie of the Year in 2005, hasn’t experienced one.
And both of them exude a quiet confidence that defies all Philadelphia logic that the city’s teams are born to be losers.
That 1964 collapse that cost the Phillies the National League pennant, the frustration of three NL East titles from 1976 through 1978 without a World Series appearance, Philadelphia’s World Series defeats in 1915, 1950, 1983 and 1993, they’re all ancient history as far as the current team is concerned.
“You hear about it,” Rollins said. “Shoot, that time has passed.”
Howard may have heard the talk about the cursed franchise he’s playing for, but he never really listened to it.
“I didn’t really buy into the whole thing about the city and the drought and all that kind of stuff,” Howard said. “I came in with the same mindset as Jimmy. I’ve heard about all the losing, but wanted to help change the face of the franchise.”
It looks a lot different now.
Behind Howard and Rollins, that sour puss identifying the Phillies for so long has turned into the joyous face of a champion.