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11/14/11 11:00 PM EST

Rollins avoids contract talk at charity fundraiser

Free-agent shortstop hosts event for child abuse awareness

PHILADELPHIA -- The timing was not lost on Jimmy Rollins. Just days before he and his wife, Johari, were set to host a charity fundraiser for Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania, they watched in horror as a child sex abuse scandal erupted at Penn State.

The irony, said the free-agent shortstop, is that child abuse is often something no one wants to mention. Now, everyone is talking about it.

"It just happened to work out like that," Rollins said Monday, standing on the red carpet at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, kicking off his "Havana Nights" gala with friends and Phillies players. "This is an important issue. It's very important for us to talk about, because this is something a lot of people don't like to talk about. If we can use this to raise awareness, and talk about preventative measures, that's how we can protect our children.

"I've always said I was blessed, and for those given a lot, a lot is expected. Some athletes do a lot for their city. Some athletes don't. And for a while, I was one of those that didn't -- but now that's why I've started the Jimmy Rollins Foundation, so I can do more things like this. Everybody wants to do something, and I hope I can help people work together for this cause."

On this night, Rollins had only one issue he would not talk about -- his contract status with the Phillies. The shortstop, who is staring at free agency for the first time in his career, waved off all baseball questions, politely saying, "This is not the time to talk about that; we're here to raise awareness about preventing child abuse."

The evening featured a number of special guests, including Phils manager Charlie Manuel, Kyle Kendrick, Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard. Howard, among Rollins' closest friends, perhaps best summed up everyone's feelings when he joked, "Hey, if it were up to me, I'd just slap him upside the head and say, 'You're staying.'"

"I've been his manager for a long time," Manuel said. "I feel very fortunate and lucky for that. Why wouldn't I want to keep being his manager? I've got an opinion. I think Jimmy has always enjoyed playing here. But this is going to play out. Jimmy has earned the right to look around and see what's out there. That's an opportunity for a player that sometimes only comes along one time -- and this is his time."

Hamels called Rollins "a great guy and a great teammate."

"He's one of the best shortstops in baseball, and having him behind you instills a lot of confidence," Hamels said. "Anything hit out there, you know it's an out. But in baseball, this happens. These things take care of themselves."

Howard, recovering from surgery on his ruptured left Achilles tendon, appeared on crutches, still in a walking boot. He shed the crutches for his turn on the red carpet, with Rollins lending a hand to help Howard as he hobbled in front of the cameras.

"I feel good," Howard said. "I can't do very much yet, so it's up to the doctors, and we'll go from there. I don't have a timetable; I want to take my time, get as healthy as I can and get back to 100 percent. Hopefully, I'll be there for Spring Training, but I don't have a timetable."

The Phillies introduced Jonathan Papelbon, their newest free agent, earlier in the day. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the team still has some flexibility, and noted that shortstop is a priority.

"Obviously, shortstop is a position we'd like to shore up, and we've been pretty open and public about what we're trying to do to move forward as far as Jimmy is concerned," Amaro said. "Hopefully, we can take care of that business in the short term. I'm not sure what kind of timetable it's going to take. But we have some other things and flexibility to do it.

"We don't have any time constraints. We have until April [4]. We'll try to get it together."

Phillies president David Montgomery, who also attended Rollins' charity fundraiser, said discussions with Rollins so far have been "inconclusive," but added: "The toughest thing is to almost imagine our club without Jimmy Rollins.

He's not alone.

"When I came up, Jimmy really took me in," said Howard, who stayed at Rollins' house during his rookie year. "We used to sit around and talk baseball all the time -- what we wanted to do, what we wanted to change. 'We need to change this, we need to change that.' We talked a lot about the organization and what we wanted it to be. I'm proud to be part of what we've done here. It's been fun to be a part of. It's been a great run -- I just don't want to shut it down too soon."

Kevin Roberts is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.