IT WAS 6:15 on theevening of Jan. 18, and were this any other year, the couple of hundred sportsfans who had gathered in the Diamond Club inside Philadelphia's Citizens BankPark might have been consumed by despair. Less than an hour before, DonovanMcNabb and the Eagles had lost the NFC Championship Game for the fourth timethis decade, in typically mystifying fashion. And yet, aside from occasionalmutters of "Frickin' Eagles!" by a few middle-aged men with thequarterback's last name and number screen-printed on their backs, the mood inthe Diamond Club was positively ebullient. People were actually laughing. Thatwas due to the lanky, square-jawed young man with the dark, center-parted hairwho was stationed near the back wall, separated from the fans only by anightclub-style rope. The young man was Cole Hamels, the lefthanded ace wholast fall, at age 24, led the Phillies to their first World Series title since1980 and Philadelphia's first championship of any kind since '83. In so doinghe made the city a winner again, which no Eagles flameout could take away.
Hamels had beencontracted to appear at the Diamond Club for two hours, from six to eight, tohelp introduce a series of prints officially described as "a limitededition giclée-on-canvas of Cole Hamels hand-embellished by world renownedsports artist Bill Lopa," any of which could be purchased for the specialNew Year's price of $1,950. Though this event was not exactly as glamorous asThe Late Show with David Letterman, on which Hamels appeared immediately afterthe World Series, his comportment suggested that the Diamond Club was the onlyplace on earth he wanted to be.
To start, hesigned a stack of prints as thick as the Bible. The pitcher inscribed each oneCole Hamels, W.S. MVP '08, gripping the pen up high so as not to smudge thesilver ink.
Then it waspicture time. Hamels offered a handshake and a toothy smile to each purchaser,who as part of the transaction was entitled to a photograph with him. Thebuyers strode up and slapped him on the back, and he deftly engaged them in afew seconds of small talk and laughter before wheeling toward the camera. Heput a comforting arm around the shoulders of the shy boys in Little Leagueuniforms who couldn't bring themselves to establish eye contact, gently guidingthem into the proper position just before the flash went off. There was, infact, only one moment in which Hamels displayed any uncertainty.
February 23, 2009
"Could you saya few words for my daughter, Arden Rose?" asked a woman with a videocamera. She had purchased a pair of prints.
"I'd be happyto," Hamels said.
"Her batmitzvah's coming up, so could you congratulate her on that? We're making avideo for the party."
Hamels lookedperplexed, and he glanced toward his wife, Heidi, who was perched on a highchair off to the side, sipping from a cup of water. She shrugged.
"How do yousay it?" Hamels asked. "A what mitzvah? I know a bar mitzvah—"
"You know,Cole, like a bat," interjected his agent, John Boggs, as he pantomimed aswing. "Sort of."
"Baht,"the woman with the camera enunciated.
"Bahtmitzvah?" Hamels asked. "Am I saying it right?"
Someone explainedthat a bat mitzvah refers to a girl and a bar mitzvah to a boy, and Hamels saidthat all his Jewish friends back in San Diego had been male. "Baht ... baht... baht," he said as the woman lifted the camera to her eye.
Fifteen minuteslater the World Series MVP had successfully taped his message to young ArdenRose and was back in the effortless groove of meeting and greeting the line ofbuzzing fans. The woman with the video camera was long gone, but every once ina while, between the flashes, Hamels looked up at the ceiling and quietlyuttered a few words. "Baht mitzvah," he repeated. "Baht."
This is thestrange, fabulous new life of Cole Hamels.
WHEN HAMELS metHeidi Strobel in 2004, his name was familiar only to the most devoted Philliesfans and baseball draftniks, while she already had a firm understanding of lifein the public's unforgiving gaze—and how to prosper in it. A year earlier shehad appeared as a contestant in Survivor: The Amazon, the sixth season of thereality TV series. (She finished fifth, but she and the competition's eventualwinner, Jenna Morasca, became famous for taking off all their clothes in returnfor some Oreos and peanut butter.) By the end, she says, she weighed 70 poundsand was paralyzed from the waist down for almost a month due to a bite from apoisonous spider. After the show aired, she parlayed her fame (VH-1 ranked herSurvivor stripping as the 12th-greatest moment in the history of reality TV)into a cover appearance with Jenna in the August 2003 issue of Playboy, inaddition to a variety of other profitable gigs. One of those took Heidi toBright House Field, the home of the Class A Clearwater (Fla.) Threshers.Hamels, who had received a $2 million signing bonus as the 17th overall pick inthe '02 draft, out of Rancho Bernardo (Calif.) High, was spending most of the'04 season at Clearwater on the disabled list due to elbow tendinitis.
Cole approachedHeidi at the urging of two of the ballpark's security guards. ("I told him,'She's a pretty girl, she don't drink, she don't smoke—you should meether,'" recalls one of the guards, Woody Woodard.) Within a few weeks, afterCole had flown to her hometown of Buffalo, Mo., they were dating. They weremarried in 2006, on New Year's Eve. "Part of what attracted me was howmature he was," Heidi says. "I didn't know he was young"—she isfive years his senior—"I thought we were the same age. But when everybody'sstaring at you, the lights are on you, he used to go into a littleball."
In early January2009 Cole and Heidi drove their Jeep, with a U-Haul attached, from their housein suburban Philadelphia to Clearwater so Cole could start his off-seasonworkouts at the Phillies' spring training facility. On the way they stopped inOrlando. There Heidi, a dedicated runner who has a master's degree in exercisephysiology, ran a half-marathon and attended a convention on behalf of acompany she has started with her sister Dawn called sistasshirts.com, whichproduces and sells inspirational T-shirts for female runners. (Cole manned thecredit-card swiper.)
Five days beforeCole's appearance at the Diamond Club, the couple sat together on the couch intheir rented Clearwater condo and talked about how some people, such as DerekJeter and Tiger Woods, seem to have been born to shine in the public eye, whilemost others have to learn the skill. They agreed that Heidi's expertise in thatregard has been immensely beneficial to her husband. "She definitely helpedme with a lot of my interview skills and public speaking," Cole said.
"We used todrive to the field together in spring training, and I'd be like, 'O.K., Cole,I'm going to do a mock interview with you,'" said Heidi. "I said, 'Ifyou're wanting to be their ace, act like you're their ace. Talk like theirace.'"
"This was inthe spring of '06," Cole said, "when I started getting a lot moreattention, and they thought I might make the team halfway through theyear."
"You went fromsaying 'um' 20 times in an interview to maybe once," she said.
Cole smiled at thememory. "Just cutting down on certain words and not trying to escape[helped]," he said. "Heidi was like, If you want to be in a position torepresent the team, you've got to dress the part, you've got to speak the part.That was something I didn't know. I could be too SoCal, laid-back." Cole'swardrobe used to be stocked with cargo shorts and surfer T-shirts. Now he's aHugo Boss kind of a guy.
This winter Colehas been offered plenty of opportunities to display his Heidi-honed publicpersona. There was the Letterman show, for which he was flown to New York Cityin a helicopter to recite the Top 10 Things That Went Through Cole Hamels'sMind after Winning the World Series. (Number 5, delivered with an arched lefteyebrow: Is the Phillie Phanatic hitting on my wife?) "What a guy,huh?" Dave said afterward.
There was TheEllen DeGeneres Show, on which Hamels charmed the host and threw a ball thatplunged her producer into a dunk tank for charity. Then there was the endlessseries of lower-profile events—meet-and-greets, autograph shows, commercialshoots, magazine photo shoots, charity appearances—that suddenly dominated hiscalendar. On the weekend of the print signing at the Diamond Club, he hadalready been the subject of a shoot for Philadelphia Style magazine, attended abaseball card show in New Jersey and dined with high rollers at two AtlanticCity casinos. Oh, yes: He had also signed a three-year, $20.5 million contractwith the Phillies, the largest ever awarded to a pitcher who was eligible forarbitration for the first time.
In many waysHamels represents a marketing executive's fantasy. He is, of course,outrageously talented—a southpaw who throws a 94-mph fastball, an above-averagecurve and a changeup that Tom House, the big league pitcher turned pitchingguru who began tutoring Hamels when he was a junior in high school, calls"in the top 10 I've ever seen." What sets Hamels apart, says House, isthat he throws all three pitches from the same release point. "It'sdevastating for a hitter when all of them look like a fastball, and two of themaren't." In October, when he went 4--0 with a 1.80 ERA in five playoffstarts, Hamels firmly established himself as the third-best lefthanded starterin the game, behind only Johan Santana and CC Sabathia. He could easily havebecome the first pitcher to win five games in a single postseason if horrendousweather and a swollen middle finger he sustained while trying to bunt had notforced him to cut down on his changeups in Game 5 of the World Series, and ifthe rain had not caused that game's suspension with the score tied 2--2 in thesixth inning.
As if that weren'tenough, Hamels is good-looking—long ago teammates gave him the nicknameHollywood Hamels—and charming in that chilled-out, beach-rat way. Despite hisupgraded wardrobe, it's not hard to imagine him driving around San Diego in hisbroken-down Chevy lowrider with his best buddies, Scott Lonergan and Matt Reid,as he did as a teenager not so long ago. "Cole and I were probably the mostkiller two-on-two beach volleyball combo ever to hit Del Mar," saysLonergan, who last year pitched in the Red Sox organization. "We'd fuel upwith burritos from Roberto's Taco Shop, and then we'd go out and justdominate."
Hamels is alsohumble and quick to laugh at himself. He casts himself as the rube in many ofthe personal stories he tells. There was the time that shortstop Jimmy Rollinsand a few other teammates invited him to play cards on the team plane. ("Iwas like, Sure, I know how to play poker, but it wasn't poker, and the nextthing I know, all my meal money's gone.") And the misunderstanding over the2010 Chevy Camaro he won as the World Series MVP and promised in a postgameinterview to give to Heidi. ("I kept waiting for them to deliver it, so Ifinally called and they said you have to order it online, and it'll take eightmonths. I was like, I thought I just got the one that was on the field!")And the awe with which he still remembers his Letterman appearance, because ofthe chopper ("I'd never been in one before!") and because actor PaulRudd, a guest on that night's show, congratulated him backstage. ("I waslike, You, Paul Rudd, watch baseball? And you know who I am?")
In addition to allthat—and this is what would really thrill a marketing exec—Hamels has beenwilling to do nearly everything he's been invited to do in this, his firstoff-season as a true star. "It's been a whirlwind of opportunities that younever really imagine having," he said in Clearwater. "It's a way toshow fans a different side of me. I didn't grow up with this glamorouslifestyle—my mom [Amanda] is a teacher, and my dad [Gary] works as an assistantschool-district superintendent—but all kids can achieve their goals if theyreally want to, and that's what I want to show them.
"I've alwaysadmired Tom Hanks, you know, Hugh Jackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon. Ilike those guys as actors, plus the way they appear in the press, it's alwaysgood. They're very aware of having a good image and being stand-up people. Iguess that's kind of shown me the way."
IT'S DIFFICULT tobelieve now, but not so long ago many people doubted that Hamels would ever beinvited to the lowliest baseball card show, let alone to hobnob with Dave andEllen. He had a propensity for getting injured that was so alarming thatBaseball Prospectus once likened him to "Fabergé eggs, china dolls and icesculptures."
It all startedwhen Hamels broke his arm in a summer league game following his sophomore yearof high school, in 2000. His humerus, the bone between the shoulder and elbowof his throwing arm, snapped in mid-pitch. "It was something I never wantto see again," says Mark Furtak, his pitching coach at Rancho BernardoHigh. "The ball sailed over the backstop, he crumbled to the mound, and hisface just went white."
Surgery repairedthe fracture, but a variety of other ailments limited Hamels to a total of 152minor league innings from 2003 through '05. In his two full seasons in the bigleagues, however, he has thrown 410 2/3 innings, and his 227 1/3 innings lastseason trailed only Santana's 234 1/3 in the National League. This newfounddurability is due partly to his marriage to Heidi. "She taught me theproper ways of taking care of myself and working out," says Hamels. Hisrigorous training sessions can run to six hours a day—he even does a fullabdominal workout on the days he starts—and he hasn't felt anything butperfectly healthy in more than a year.
However, anincident at a Clearwater bar called Razzel's Lounge almost sidelined his careerbefore it started. At Razzel's, four quarters will buy you two tabletsidentified by the handwritten sign on the men's-room vending machine as MAXAROUSE SEX STIMULENT (sic). There's cold J√§germeister on tap, and the SMOKINGPERMITTED signs on the front doors serve as more of an enticement than awarning. In short, Razzel's, which is located in a strip mall across a sidestreet from the original Hooters restaurant, is not the kind of establishmentthe Phillies like their players to frequent. In fact the organization has foryears assessed a $500 fine to any minor leaguer whose car is spotted in theparking lot.
It was in thatlot, however, that Hamels broke his pitching hand in January 2005, during abrawl between a handful of minor leaguers and a few Clearwater residents. Oneof the latter, a young man named T.J. Ferrol, hit on the girlfriend of EdwardBuzachero, a member of the Blue Jays organization. The groups exchanged insultsand eventually punches; in the end a friend of Ferrol's was thrown into anearby lake and Ferrol himself was stomped on and kicked in the face. He washospitalized and received eight stitches beneath his left eye. "I swearthere were eight guys beating me up," says Ferrol, who is now 27 and worksin customer service at the Men's Wearhouse in Clearwater, "but maybe withall the punches it just felt like eight."
The Phillies'general manager at the time, Ed Wade, was apoplectic ("I've never beenyelled at like that in my life," says Hamels) and rescinded the youngpitcher's invitation to big league camp, where he wouldn't have been of muchuse anyway with a fractured hand. The other Phillies minor leaguers involved inthe fight, lesser pitching prospects Lee Gwaltney and Beau Richardson, werereleased—the former almost immediately and the latter during the season."We try to treat all of our players fairly," says Phillies G.M. RubenAmaro, who was then an assistant to Wade, "but some players we treat morefairly than others." (Hamels still counts Gwaltney and Richardson asfriends.)
Ferrol declined topress charges. "Both sides were partying," he says. "It happens. IfI had pressed charges, maybe the Phillies would have dropped [Hamels] and hewould have never made the World Series. I'm an athlete too—I play soccer—and wehave to stick together. I hope Hamels knows that I have no hardfeelings."
Those close toHamels consider the fight an aberration ("He's a cruise ship, not abattleship," says Lonergan), an expression of fraternal loyalty more thananything else, but Hamels recognizes the damage the incident did to hisreputation. "What I would do now is just get away," he says. These dayshis idea of a big night is watching DVDs with Heidi. "We've got The DarkKnight," he says. "We've got The Duchess...."
JUST 15 moreminutes, Cole, and we'll have you out of here," one of the giclée-on-canvaspromoters was saying.
"Noproblem," Hamels replied.
He had reached thelast part of the evening's program, a question-and-answer session, and the fansin the Diamond Club crowded around him in a ragged semicircle, pushing closeras he cheerfully responded to their queries. Who is the toughest hitter youever faced? (Manny Ramirez, definitely.) What was it like to win the WorldSeries? (It was awesome!)
As he spoke,Heidi, who now sat on the opposite side of the room, talked about the couple'splans for the upcoming year. "We're in the process of adopting an AIDSorphan from Ethiopia," she said. "Maybe two. I'm so pumped. I'd adoptsix if I could. When I was five years old—I grew up in a very rural town inMissouri, and I had never even seen a black person—they asked us to draw apicture of ourselves in the future, and I drew myself holding hands with a lineof tiny black stick figures. I've always wanted this." She and Cole arealso preparing, under the auspices of the fledgling Hamels Foundation, to builda girls' school in Malawi. Heidi has made a couple of monthlong research tripsthere. "We're not just doing it because it's the Brad and Angelina plan,but because we're in the position to do it and it's the right thing to do,"she said.
Then eight o'clockarrived, and the final question was asked and answered, and Cole and Heidi andBoggs, the agent, made their exit. Outside, Cole wasn't smiling anymore, and hewasn't talking. His throat was sore, and his left hand was a little crampedfrom signing his name so many times. Most of all, he was tired.
"Now I'mstarting to see the stress that all this creates," he had said on his couchin Clearwater five days before. "Heidi and I haven't been able to spend asmuch time together as we would like, because we've got to be here on this daybecause I have this to do. It's fun for the first hour, and then you're like,Oh, man, how many more days do I have to be here and do things?
"I've gottensome good rewards, but there's a point at which you have to be able to get outand keep your sanity. What I've been learning, and I'm glad I'm learning it, isif I just keep doing everything, it would wear me out. I don't want these sidejobs to affect my real job, which is to go out and play baseball and towin."
Hamels was toreturn to Philadelphia the weekend after the Diamond Club appearance for somecard shows and an awards banquet, but after that he planned to stay inClearwater to train, without interruption, until he pitches on opening night,April 5, against the Atlanta Braves. "Next weekend, and I'm done," hesaid at the gate to the parking lot. "I'm just ready to put all my focus onmy pitching. You know?"
Heidi had a firm understanding of life in the public'sunforgiving gaze—and how to prosper in it.
"I don't want these side jobs to affect my realjob, which is to play baseball and to win."