ARLINGTON, Tex. — Even though Cole Hamels has been gone for almost two years and pitched in an All-Star Game and two postseasons as a member of the Texas Rangers, there is still a little piece of him that is a Phillie.

He was reminded of that when the Phils arrived in Texas for an interleague visit on Tuesday.

On the mound was Jerad Eickhoff, one of the players Hamels was traded for in the July 2015 blockbuster that ended a 13-year run with the Phillies that started when he was their first-round draft pick in 2002 and included his winning the World Series MVP award six years later.

And in the dugout were all those familiar Phillies uniforms and a handful of old teammates that Hamels was seeing for the first time since the trade.

"You kind of have to turn the page real quick and know that I'm rooting against them and not for them," Hamels said with a laugh in the Rangers' clubhouse late Tuesday afternoon.

Hamels had just emerged from a place he'd rather not have been.

The athletic trainer's room.

He went down with a strained oblique two weeks ago and is expected to miss six more weeks. The injury scuttled any chance that he would pitch against his former team and the Phils and Rangers see each other only once every three years.

"It would have been something fun," Hamels said. "And I think it probably would've been a little more entertaining if it was back in Philly. That would've probably had a little more significance and been more of a memory. Unfortunately, neither happened."


A reporter pointed out to Hamels that the two teams could always meet in the World Series.

"When?" he asked playfully.

The Rangers have never won a World Series. They hope Hamels, now 33, will help them do that before his contract expires. He is signed through next season with a club option for 2019.

By the time Hamels' deal runs out, the Phillies might be farther along in their rebuild and closer to being a contender. The Phils say they will spend on impact free agents when they are ready to contend. How about a Hamels reunion? He'll pitch at 36 in 2020.

"I never leave the door closed," the pitcher said. "It's a special place and will continue to be a special place."

Players talk. Free agents talk. From Bryce Harper to Manny Machado, the free-agent class that will hit the market after the 2018 season is stacked.

"It looks like Philadelphia will have the perfect timing in the next couple of years," Hamels said.

Would he advise a free agent to go to Philadelphia?

"There's no better place to play in front of a sold-out crowd every single day," said Hamels, who played in front of 257 straight sellout crowds during the Phillies' run of five NL East titles and a World Series title from 2007 to 2011. "The fans actually can intimidate the opposing team. You can build off that vibe, you can feed off it. It's a great place to play.

"The fans really do love baseball. As much as I know it's a football and hockey town, baseball has a significant presence there. Especially when they're winning — it's the sport to go watch in the summer. They live and breathe it. That's what you play the game for. You want to play in front of people who actually understand it and want you to do well and want to make it a hard city for the opposing team. That's home-field advantage."

Philadelphia fans also have big hearts. They never forget their champions.

Look at the ovations that Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz received when they returned to Philadelphia in other uniforms.

And the sendoff they gave Ryan Howard on the final day last season, as well.

Hamels saw them all.

"We were playing when Chase went back (last season), but I got to see the highlights on MLB Network. It gave me chills to see that," Hamels said. "I know how much Chase meant to that city and how much that city meant to him. For the fans to see that and recognize that, and obviously for him to put up the typical Chase Utley game, that was pretty wild.

"When we played there, we just saw the constant boos of former players. We're like, 'Oh, that sucks. Don't want to come back here.' Then to see the turn, that's what is great about Philadelphia sports fans. If you make the right type of impact, you last forever. That really does mean something.


"There's no better place to play sports."

Including the postseason, Hamels made 356 starts in a Phillies uniform. Obviously, his work en route to the 2008 World Series championship was huge.

But did anyone ever leave a team with a more dramatic exit than the lefty, who lived up to his old nickname — Hollywood — with a no-hitter in Wrigley Field in his last start?

"I guess you can't boo that one," Hamels said with a laugh. "I'm just kidding.

"It was pretty wild. If there's a way to dream up a going-away party, that's the one. I still have friends, that game will come on TV and they'll sit back and watch it, then call me. In the offseason, they'll call me."

That game ended with centerfielder Odubel Herrera turning a rather routine ball to the wall into a circus catch. Herrera's whew catch was such an adventure that some folks wonder — even as they are watching the replay — if he'll make the play.

"So do I," Hamels said with a laugh. "I think he's gotten a lot better in the outfield from what I've seen. So it's pretty good."