CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) - Jimmy Rollins showed off a new pair of personalized red, white and blue Nike sneakers and answered a few questions before he got his first chance to reply to Carlos Beltran's boast.
``Has anyone ever heard of plagiarism?'' Rollins said, breaking into a laugh.
The NL MVP treated Beltran's in-your-face message that the New York Mets are the team to beat in the NL East like a take-out slide at second base.
He eluded it nicely, but mixed in a jab the way some middle infielders purposely land on a hard-charging runner at second base.
``Sequels are never good,'' Rollins said, crediting teammate Brett Myers with that statement first.
A switch-hitting shortstop with a big bat and slick glove, Rollins stirred things up with his mouth last January. His prediction that Philadelphia was the team to beat became back-page material for the New York tabloids.
Rollins backed it up with a career year and the Phillies took advantage of the Mets' historic collapse to finish one game ahead of New York for their first division championship in 14 years.
But the Mets significantly improved its chances for this season by acquiring ace Johan Santana last month. Excited by the addition of the two-time AL Cy Young award winner, the normally quiet Beltran tried to one-up Rollins last week.
``Let me tell you this: Without Santana, we felt as a team that we have a chance to win in our division. With him now, I have no doubt that we're going to win in our division,'' the star center fielder said. ``So this year, to Jimmy Rollins - we are the team to beat!''
When a reporter read Beltran's quote straight from a newspaper clip, Rollins smiled and shrugged it off.
``Pretty good, especially coming from him,'' he said. ``Because he's a quiet guy, it was probably shocking when he said it. Not shocking in a bad way, like, 'Wow, I can't believe he said that.' More like, 'Wow, he finally said something because he's a leader on that team and you definitely need to be a vocal leader.'''
So who really is the team to beat in a tough division that includes the suddenly overlooked Atlanta Braves?
``There isn't a team in this division or the National League that's better than us,'' Rollins said. ``After 162 games, we'll be looking to win the next 11.''
How many games can the Phillies win, Mr. Prognosticator?
``We can win 100 games,'' Rollins said. ``Look at what happened to us last year with all the injuries and all the different pitchers and the uncertainties and we wound up winning 89 games.''
Pressed for an outright guarantee, Rollins said: ``I guess after 162 games we'll know that answer.''
J-Roll certainly hasn't lost his swagger. He's confident as ever, and he's still stylin' like usual. Rollins carried a fresh pair of sneakers, featuring his nickname on the side, MVP printed on the bottom shoelace and a Liberty Bell on the tongue.
``As you can see, my style is still immaculate,'' Rollins said.
Rollins looks good and wants to play even better. He's coming off an outstanding all-around season in which he set several career highs on offense and earned his first Gold Glove award.
Batting mostly out of the leadoff spot, Rollins finished with a .296 batting average, 38 doubles, 20 triples, 30 homers, 41 steals, 94 RBIs and scored an NL-best 139 runs. He became the first player in major league history to have 30 doubles, 20 triples, 30 homers and 30 steals in one season.
No shortstop in the NL ever had more extra-base hits (88) and only Alex Rodriguez had more (91) in 1996 with Seattle. The durable Rollins, who's only 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, played every game, becoming the first NL shortstop in 34 years to do so.
Rollins helped the Phillies overcome numerous injuries, including losing Ryan Howard and Chase Utley at different times during the season.
``You know there's always room for improvement,'' Rollins said. ``I'm still learning the game, still learning myself. I never become satisfied with what I've done.''
Rollins took advice from Howard on handling the offseason after winning the MVP award. Howard, who won it 2006, admits now that he wasn't ready for spring training because the banquet circuit took its toll. The slugger struggled at the start of last season, but still finished with 47 homers and 136 RBIs.
``I definitely learned don't do every dinner you can,'' Rollins said. ``Those steaks and potatoes and vegetables taste good, but they can make you lazy. I stayed under the radar.''
When he goes to Shea Stadium, the 29-year-old Rollins has nowhere to hide. He was booed there all of last season, and expects the same treatment this year. Rollins loves the pressure, even thrives on it.
He batted .346 with six homers and 15 RBIs against the Mets, helping the Phillies go 12-6 in the season series. Philadelphia won the last eight meetings, including a three-game sweep at New York in mid-September.
``I love it,'' Rollins said. ``You can come off a three-game losing streak and get to New York and it's like a brand new season because of the intensity.''
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