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Wife's labor added drama to Hamels start

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PHILADELPHIA – The text message landed at 4:07 p.m.

I'm in the hospital going into labor. Could you please tell Cole as soon as he is done pitching?

Frank Coppenbarger has been the Phillies' clubhouse man for 21 years and traveling secretary for the last 10. He's accustomed to handling all kinds of emergencies. But a player's wife having a baby in the middle of a playoff game?

"Got to be a first,'' he said.

This wasn't just any player, either. It was Cole Hamels(notes), the pitcher the Philadelphia Phillies had sent to the mound to start Game 2 of its National League division series against the Colorado Rockies. Hamels is 25, southern California bred, darkly handsome. Heidi Strobel Hamels is blonde, a former star on the TV show "Survivor" and a one-time Playboy model.

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Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels with his wife, Heidi, in January.
(AP Photo)

They met when she was invited to throw out the first pitch at a minor league park, and married on New Year's Eve, 2006. They are the team's reigning celebrity couple.

It was around the fifth inning, Coppenbarger thinks. He was back in his office, saw the text, then looked at his cell phone again. There were a couple of missed calls, and a voice mail. It was Hamels' mother-in-law, with a similar message.

"It kind of startled me,'' he said, "to hear something like that.''

Coppenbarger did not text back to Heidi.

"Didn't want to bother her,'' he said. "Sounded to me like she was kind of busy.''

But he did go down to the Phillies' dugout to seek out Rich Dubee, the Phillies' pitching coach.

"(Dubee) told me, 'Just tell him right now,' '' Coppenbarger said.

By then, it was the bottom of the fifth, and the Phillies were trailing by four runs in a game they would lose 5-4. Hamels had just been lifted for a pinch-hitter and was sitting on the bench.

"He was sort of numb,'' Coppenbarger said. "He was watching the game, I went up to him and said, 'Hey, we got word your wife's in labor. She's in the hospital and I'm supposed to tell you right now. He said, 'OK.' That was it. He jumped up and ran to the clubhouse.''

There have been plenty of times a player's wife has given birth during the season, and these days, teams almost always give the prospective daddy permission to leave for the hospital. It wasn't always that way. Terry Francona, the manager of the Boston Red Sox, tells the story of how his wife Jacque went into labor with their first child, his son Nick. Francona, who was playing with Cincinnati at the time, went to tell his manager, Pete Rose. Rose told him he could go, but if he did, not to bother coming back.

"I've heard that story,'' says Coppenbarger, who was with Francona when he managed the Phillies. "World's a little bit different now.''

In 1985, when the Kansas City Royals were in the World Series, their ace was a precocious 21-year-old named Bret Saberhagen. His wife, Janeane, was due any day with their first child. Saberhagen pitched and won Game 3 of the World Series, and during the game arranged for ABC, which was televising the game, to flash messages from him to his wife.

On Oct. 26, the day before Game 7, Janeane Saberhagen gave birth to a 9-pound, 3-ounce son, Drew William.

Saberhagen threw a five-hit shutout in Game 7, and during the eighth inning looked into ABC's cameras and asked his wife over the air, "Is the baby still there?''

While Hamels hustled into the shower, Coppenbarger called the airport and arranged to have his bags pulled from the team's charter flight. "You're allowed to bring a guest,'' he said, "and Cole had a buddy going with him. I had find him, too – he was in the stands – and get his bag off.''

By the time Hamels was ready to go, Coppenbarger had a car down in the tunnel under Citizens Bank Park, ready to take him to the hospital, and off he went. Now it was after 7 p.m., and Coppenbarger was grabbing a bite to eat before the team took off for Colorado.

"No,'' he said when asked if there was word from the hospital, "haven't heard anything yet.''

Charlie Manuel, the Phillies' manager, thought Hamels might have been distracted by the day's other major event while he was pitching. Reliever Scott Eyre(notes), one of seven Phillies pitchers used by Manuel after Hamels left, including one, Cliff Lee(notes), who entered the game as a pinch-runner, said Hamels acted no differently before the game.

"I don't think it affected him one bit, he puts things out of his mind pretty well,'' Eyre said. "I don't think he let that play into anything. He was the same normal self as he always is.''

Could Eyre have been as outwardly nonchalant in the same circumstances?

"I've been there,'' he said. "I started a game in Chicago, and my wife went into labor with our oldest son. It was 1998. I knew we were going to induce the next day, but she was ready to go.

"But once you get on the mound and start pitching, you don't think about squat. You're a baseball player, and it comes out.''

Eyre's voice became a whisper. "I think I threw five no-hit innings, in a spot start. Probably the best start of my career.''