Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels doesn't turn 25 until December, but he already has 77 major league starts with an All-Star appearance under his belt. He's also married to a former reality TV star, and has learned a key lesson about how to handle the money that ballplayers can make.
After a recent bullpen session at Citizens Bank Park, Hamels expressed what it's like to follow in the larger-than-anticipated steps of Steve Carlton, in a sometimes-comically passionate sports town, where odd-colored simians might follow your every move.
Q: Have you been asked before about a guy in a pink ape costume who comes to games with the sign "Cole Hamels is a beast"?
Cole Hamels: I saw him once. And I believe it was a day game. I don't know why he'd want to be wearing a pink ape costume during a day game because I think it was 98 degrees outside. Yeah, it was kind of funny. The reason I saw him was because the Phanatic brought him down on top of the dugout for one of the Seventh Inning Stretch-type deals, and I thought it was pretty funny.
Q: Are you at all beastly?
CH: No, I don't think I am at all (laughs). But with Philadelphia and the way they go about loving their sports here, they usually go all out to come up with original ways to express it ... Usually, people will make a sign that tries to rhyme your name — like someone did with Kyle Kendrick last night — or do something that spoofs something, trying to top the next guy. It makes you proud as a player to be in this city with that kind of fan support.
Q: There's a sculpture of Steve Carlton outside the ballpark. When you saw that Lefty was 10 feet tall, did you think, "Holy cow, no wonder he had 4,000 strikeouts"?
CH: Shoot, yeah (laughs). Anybody that's ever competed against him wasn't going to be any taller than 6-foot. There's definitely a reason they made it so tall.
Q: When you go for a jog between starts, have you ever run through the streets of South Philly and up the steps of the Museum of Art before raising your arms in triumph?
CH: I have run up the steps. Not through the streets of South Philly, though. What's kind of funny is, in the minor leagues, that's the song -- the "Rocky" theme -- was what started me off when I'd pitch. It's such awesome music, that it was the first song I'd hit on my mp3 player that would get me going running. That just fit the whole mix of me playing in Philadelphia.
Q: Should the Phillies petition MLB to get a Rockies-like humidor so this place doesn't play like Coors Field?
CH: No, because last night, nothing went out. Guys were crushing balls and nothing went out. I think it's just part of the game. It's something where, it builds character. If you can pitch here, you can pitch anywhere. Nothing will really intimidate you or scare you. I know people talk a lot about it and bad-mouth it. But — you know what? — I'm here. Keeping a low ERA here makes people believe that, yeah, there might be a short porch, but you can still come here and dominate.
Q: He's been the center fielder for nearly a year now, so why hasn't Victorino run face-first into the fence yet?
CH: He came close, I know, on a pitch I threw. I think he ran into the wall with his knee and went on the DL right after that. Yeah, he went on the disabled list — so that can kinda count, right (laughs)?
CH: No, no. I will try anything and everything. I think you have to be in the mood for the ingredients that each different place has. I've had, probably about three of the different places on that corner, and I think they're all great, so it's very hard for me to pick out the best one.
Q: Has Cole Hamels ever smoked a whole pack of Camels?
CH: No. I think I smoked one cigarette in my life and I hated every minute of it. I'm glad I tried it, and I think it's definitely something that's not for me.
Q: When was this cigarette?
CH: Well, I was out underage-drinking (laughs).
Q: Any other crimes you committed that you'd like to admit to?
CH: No! I mean, I think all kids have done it at some point.
Q: Which Constitutional Amendment would you throw out if you became King of the U.S.A.?
CH: Heh. That's tough, because I had to do a report on it when I was in eighth grade.
Ryan Howard: King of the U.S.A.
(Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the 2006 National League MVP, Mr. Ryan Howard)
Ryan Howard: King. Of the U.S.A.
Q: That's correct.
Ryan Howard: That's one sick bloodline. I wonder where would we fall in that kingdom?
CH (trying to answer the question): I don't know. A lot of the amendments are pretty good. I know the one that was ratified — the alcohol prohibition (the 18th) — that probably would be the only one I'd ever throw out. But it's not ratified anymore (21st). I'm glad they repealed (laughs).
Ryan Howard: If you were King of the U.S.A., could I be in, like, your army? A general!
CH: Yeah, Ryan. He could be a big body guard next to me.
(Ladies and gentlemen, Ryan Howard is off to get a sandwich)
Q: The Phillies have been around since 1883 and have won ONE World Series. What's the matter with this franchise?
CH: I think they were trying. Before the good teams in the '70s and '80s, they didn't have the ownership. They had fan appeal, but they never had the financial means to go out and get the best of the best. Now, because they way the market works, you have to go out and spend to get players. They've done that since the '90s.
Q: In the Vet they had a court and jail underneath the stadium for the rowdiest of fans; which one of your teammates would be most likely to be arrested for doing something bad at an Eagles game?
CH: Shane Victorino, especially if he doesn't take is ADD medicine. He can't be quiet. He's disappeared for the moment, but if he were in this locker room, you'd hear him saying something.
Q: What kinds of cool stories does Jamie Moyer tell about pitching against Hank Aaron and Willie Mays?
CH: He's got all kinds of stories. He pitched against Steve Carlton in his first game, so I thought that was pretty cool.
Q: I was trying to make a joke about how old (45) he is.
CH: Oh, yeah. Well, he is! He was just talking about three of the guys he played with are on the (Phillies) Wall of Fame board. I was like, "Oops. Sorry Jamie. Don't want to mention that too often" (laughs).
Q: After you've thrown a pitch, does your left foot get as high as your head is right now, when you're standing up straight?
CH: I want to say (mentally picturing himself) it's probably right at the same level, a little more than 6-foot.
Q: How do you not tip over?
CH: Oh, well, maybe it's all those glute exercises (laughs).
CH: Very tough. All the focus on him not being able to play seven days a week for us is going to be hard for him. Once Sunday comes around, he's going to have to be a Jet. It's going to be tough for all of us.
Q: Do Eagles fans appreciate Donovan McNabb enough?
CH: No. Injuries also hurt how people view your character. Fans expect, when you get paid the big money, to pretty much be invincible and it's a hard feat. He's gone through so many serious injuries. I think he's a phenomenal player. I see it from an athletic standpoint, and I know that I would not be able to take those type of hits.
Q: Are you familiar with the phrase "Out-kicking your coverage" as it relates to marriage?
Q: It means marrying someone who's just way more beautiful than you are.
CH: Oh, yeah. Over your skis!
Q: Does that relate to you?
CH: I always tell my wife that. She just laughs and says, "No, I am!" I don't think so. I'm glad we feel it's mutual. I think we're good for each other.
Q: Had you seen Heidi on TV before asking her out?
CH: No. It's funny, because when I first started dating her, I had teammates that knew and when they'd meet her — they would have been watching VH-1, or a re-run of the show, or would just remember — and they'd go, "Yeah, I saw her on 'Survivor.' I'd be like, "Saw what? Really?" I still haven't seen any of the DVDs — and we have 'em all — to this day.
Q: You took a lot of flak about what you said after your contract was renewed for $500,000. How did you handle all that?
CH: Immaturely. It was a lack of experience, not knowing when to keep your mouth quiet and just go about your business. But, if I never would have said it, I probably never would have learned the lesson and it probably would have bitten me further down the line and got me in some trouble. Sometimes, you are human, and everybody has that situation where you want to get that raise and it's hard to go up and confront your boss -- or else you're going to get walked-all-over (in negotiations). I do understand the situation a lot better. I'm just going to go out and play the game I love, because if it was taken away from me, I don't know how I'd be able to handle my life. I talked to mentors -- other players -- my wife, my parents. Basically people who've lived longer than I have who said to just let it go. There will be a time to stick up for yourself. That wasn't it.
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• Hunter Pence - April 10 • Justin Morneau - April 17 • David Wright - April 24 • Erin Andrews - April 25 • Andy Van Slyke - May 1 • Derek Jeter - May 8 • Bob Uecker - May 15 • Bert Blyleven - May 22 • Torii Hunter - May 29 • Joba Chamberlain - June 3 • Larry Bowa - June 13 • Zack Greinke - June 20 • Kerry Wood - June 26 • Huston Street - July 10 • Josh Hamilton - July 15 • Milton Bradley - July 24 • CC Sabathia - July 31 • Mike Mussina - Aug. 7 • Jason Bay - Aug. 14