PHILADELPHIA — The Phillies were in the early throes of a 67-95 season — their third of seven straight losing seasons after an appearance in the 1993 World Series — when they drafted a spark plug of a shortstop from Oakland, Calif., named Jimmy Rollins in the second round.
A cousin of then-big-leaguer Tony Tarasco, Rollins had idolized Rickey Henderson and the A's as a boy. So he lacked a feel for the Phillies and how bad they were. Rollins learned fairly early, but the culture began to change in a few years.
"We didn't know how to (win) it in this organization," said Rollins, the defending National League MVP, "but now we do."
Change began in the front office. Ed Wade was hired in 1998 as general manager and became unpopular quickly for firing former Phillie Larry Bowa as manager and hiring Charlie Manuel. But he was clearing brush on a long trail to their World Series date with the Rays.
From 1998-2001, the Phillies' first-round draft picks were Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, Chase Utley, Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels.
All those No. 1 picks, except Floyd, have started in this World Series. Floyd now pitches for the White Sox.
"Ed Wade did a good job drafting guys that were built to win, built to be good players and stay for the long run," Rollins said. "And we are now seeing that work that Ed Wade put in (Wade was fired in '05), and (current GM) Pat Gillick going out and making some good trades and picking guys up. So it's a combination of everything.
In 2001, the Phillies had their first winning season since 1993 and finished second in the NL East. The club had steps and stutters until 2007, when it won the division but was swept in the division series by Colorado.
Though the Phillies increased payroll along the way, especially to coincide with the opening of Citizens Bank Park in 2004, their fabric has changed, too.
"It started with just the mental part of the organization changing, not just going out there to compete," Rollins said. "And we were, for years, just going out and trying to compete. I think the organization, the players got tired of that, and we want to win. Things look good."
First baseman Ryan Howard, a 2001 fifth-round draft choice and the 2006 NL MVP, was a Cardinals fan from St. Louis as a child. He said he never gave much thought to the Phillies' championship drought.
"We're in that position to achieve the goal that we both had set out when we first got to this organization," Howard said of himself and Rollins.