But despite standing as a key contributor on the 2005 World Series championship squad for the White Sox, Aaron Rowand could only put forth an uneasy smile when asked about his cult-figure status living on among fans on the South Side of Chicago. Facing his original team for the first time as part of the Phillies since being traded after the White Sox won their first title in almost nine decades, Rowand laughed off the myth that his presence can be directly tied to the team's ultimate level of success.
"I wasn't the lone reason we won the World Series," said Rowand, during a 20-minute question-and-answer session with media members from Chicago and Philadelphia before Monday's Interleague series opener at Citizens Bank Park. "People say, 'Well, we lost him and didn't make the playoffs the next year.'
"There were 25 guys on that team and we all played as a unit and everybody was equal. We had Paul [Konerko] hit 40 home runs, Jermaine [Dye] hit 30 something. We had a great group of guys who were pieces of the puzzle that came together to form a team.
"Everybody contributed. There's nobody who was worth more than the other because everybody has to do their own parts to try to win games," Rowand added. "If there are people who say they shouldn't have traded me and that's why -- that's not the case. There's a lot of talent in that locker room."
Although Rowand has rushed out to an All-Star caliber start during his second season in Philadelphia, hitting .325 with eight home runs and 30 RBIs entering Monday, his name still comes up in frequent trade rumors as the July 31 non-waiver deadline quickly approaches. In a strange twist, a shoulder injury suffered by Freddy Garcia, one of Rowand's teammates in Chicago, might force the Phillies to move Rowand in order to find a suitable replacement, according to an article in Monday's Philadelphia Daily News.
Could a fit for Rowand be found once again with the White Sox? Far stranger things have happened, and the White Sox were known to have pursued Rowand at the Winter Meetings as part of the trade that eventually sent Garcia to Philadelphia and Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez back to Chicago.
Even if Rowand does not end up in Chicago this season, there's a possibility he could return in 2008. The affable center fielder will hit free agency for the first time in his solid career, as part of a center field class including Andruw Jones, Ichiro and Torii Hunter.
The White Sox figure to bring back Darin Erstad and have young outfielders such as Jerry Owens, Brian Anderson and Ryan Sweeney in play, but still could opt to add Rowand's tough presence. On Monday, when asked if he would pick Chicago over other teams if all things were equal contractually and monetarily, Rowand admitted to having a special place in his heart for the White Sox.
"Any time you get drafted by an organization, come up through the organization, winning the World Series through the organization, yeah, you're going to have a soft spot for that team," Rowand said. "There's no doubt.
"If you asked anybody anywhere if they were put in the same situation, they'd say that same thing. The chances of that actually happening are probably zero -- that everybody would say, 'Here's the money, here's the years.' So, I have no idea how it's going to play out. I've never been through it, I don't know what to expect."
Rowand then proceeded to list off the other high-profile outfielders who will be available and smiled when assessing his place among the group.
"A pretty good group of guys out there," Rowand said. "I might be the leftover guy -- 'Hey, we can't get him, so let's go get him.'"
Over the next three days, Rowand will have a chance to catch up with manager Ozzie Guillen, his former coaches and his old teammates. Of course, with the friendships Rowand formed within the White Sox, he already keeps in pretty good contact with everyone from A.J. Pierzynski to Konerko to Joe Crede to Mark Buehrle through phone calls and text messages.
His future remains somewhat uncertain, even the future as close as 30 days from now in Rowand's world. But it won't be hard to find a place for one of the more talented defensive center fielders in the National League, with a grinder-like demeanor on the field and an outgoing personality away from competition.
Fans from Chicago certainly would present Rowand with the red carpet treatment upon his return, with no offense to any of the players who have since filled his void.
"It's very, very flattering," said Rowand of the continued respect he receives from the White Sox faithful. "At the same time, it wasn't just me. It was everybody who made that team go.
"As far as compliments go, when your career is said and done, people say 'Hey, that guy was a great hitter,' or 'That guy was a great center fielder.' But the ultimate compliment anybody has ever given me in my entire career, and will be, was, 'Hey, I really like watching that guy play.'
"When people tell me that, I can't thank them enough, because that's the ultimate compliment to me," Rowand added. "And to have people say something like that is unreal."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less