Cole Hamels came back to his old baseball home Friday for a completely new experience.
His first time in Citizens Bank Park as a visiting player.
“It’s a little bit different,” said the 2008 World Series MVP, back in Philadelphia with the Chicago Cubs. “I guess I get to finally check that off my list of one of the last visiting clubhouses I’ve been in.”
Hamels, who will turn 35 in December, spent a decade down the hall in the home clubhouse before being dealt to the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline in July 2015. He was on the move again this July as the Rangers dealt him to the Cubs.
Hamels will not pitch during the three-game series in Philadelphia.
“When I first got traded, after a couple starts it looked like it could possibly happen,” he said. “I was trying to see who I would match up against. To be able to match up against (Jake) Arrieta again or Aaron Nola for probably the first time ever, that would've probably been a pretty good game. But at the same time, sometimes the schedule doesn't permit it to happen.”
Hamels will be visible during the weekend. Because he is still an active player, he was unable to attend the 10-year reunion of the 2008 World Series championship team in early August. You can bet Hamels will be recognized with some type of welcome-back tribute on the video board at some point over the weekend.
“There are so many memories,” he said. “This is a place that I got my start in and it created a lot of who I am today.
“As much appreciation as I have for the city, it's mutual. This is a tremendous place to play. To win here was absolutely amazing. There aren't enough words to describe that sort of experience.”
Hamels was traded in the early stages of a Phillies’ rebuild that is starting to bear fruit. The Phillies entered the series against the Cubs three games out of first place in the NL East with a month to play.
Phillies management fortified its playoff chase with several trades in recent weeks. There was speculation that the Phillies could pursue Hamels in a deal, but general manager Matt Klentak made it clear that he wanted to avoid the high price of doing business on the starting-pitching market. Hamels was traded to the Cubs. The Phillies did not add a starter.
Hamels said he did not think about coming back to Philadelphia as the trade deadline approached.
“I think I was trying to figure out how to pitch well,” he said. “I was in a real rut for the better part of the season and especially that last month.”
Hamels had a 10.23 ERA over his final five starts with Texas. He allowed 25 earned runs and 37 hits in 22 innings.
He has been a different guy with the Cubs, going 4-0 with a 0.69 ERA in his first six starts. He has allowed just 28 hits in 39 innings. Maybe it’s a good thing the Phillies are missing him this weekend.
Hamels, of course, pithed a no-hitter against the Cubs in Wrigley Field in his last start for the Phillies in 2015. What turned him around after the trade from Texas?
“Everything really falls back to mechanics,” Hamels said. “If you can square away your mechanics, confidence builds off that and you're able to then get results. I was struggling the whole year trying to find the right type of mechanics and my fastball wasn't really there and nothing else was really playing off that. Just correcting that and the results have kind of come.”
Hamels was drafted as a high school senior by the Phillies in 2002. He grew up in the organization, still does charitable work in the area and has a residence in the area. There has long been a school of thought that Hamels would finish his career in a Phillies uniform. It could happen. He could be a free agent this winter if the Cubs don’t pick up his $20 million club option for 2019. If the Cubs bring him back, he could be a free agent the following winter. You never know.
“This is a tremendous place to play, and if there's opportunities, there's opportunities,” Hamels said. “I won't ever shy away from them. But each and every day, I'm just trying to put up good numbers and still maintain the level of play that I expect out of myself and help whatever team I'm on find a way to win a championship.”
For now, that is the Chicago Cubs.