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"Baht," the woman with the camera enunciated.
"Baht mitzvah?" Hamels asked. "Am I saying it right?"
"Yes," she said.
Someone explained that a bat mitzvah refers to a girl and a bar mitzvah to a boy, and Hamels said that 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 minutes later the World Series MVP had successfully taped his message to young Arden Rose and was back in the effortless groove of meeting and greeting the line of buzzing fans. The woman with the video camera was long gone, but every once in a while, between the flashes, Hamels looked up at the ceiling and quietly uttered a few words. "Baht mitzvah," he repeated. "Baht."
This is the strange, fabulous new life of Cole Hamels.
WHEN HAMELS met Heidi Strobel in 2004, his name was familiar only to the most devoted Phillies fans and baseball draftniks, while she already had a firm understanding of life in the public's unforgiving gaze—and how to prosper in it. A year earlier she had appeared as a contestant in Survivor: The Amazon, the sixth season of the reality TV series. (She finished fifth, but she and the competition's eventual winner, Jenna Morasca, became famous for taking off all their clothes in return for some Oreos and peanut butter.) By the end, she says, she weighed 70 pounds and was paralyzed from the waist down for almost a month due to a bite from a poisonous spider. After the show aired, she parlayed her fame (VH-1 ranked her Survivor 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, in addition to a variety of other profitable gigs. One of those took Heidi to Bright 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 in the '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 approached Heidi 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 meet her,'" recalls one of the guards, Woody Woodard.) Within a few weeks, after Cole had flown to her hometown of Buffalo, Mo., they were dating. They were married in 2006, on New Year's Eve. "Part of what attracted me was how mature he was," Heidi says. "I didn't know he was young"—she is five years his senior—"I thought we were the same age. But when everybody's staring at you, the lights are on you, he used to go into a little ball."
In early January 2009 Cole and Heidi drove their Jeep, with a U-Haul attached, from their house in suburban Philadelphia to Clearwater so Cole could start his off-season workouts at the Phillies' spring training facility. On the way they stopped in Orlando. There Heidi, a dedicated runner who has a master's degree in exercise physiology, ran a half-marathon and attended a convention on behalf of a company she has started with her sister Dawn called sistasshirts.com, which produces and sells inspirational T-shirts for female runners. (Cole manned the credit-card swiper.)
Five days before Cole's appearance at the Diamond Club, the couple sat together on the couch in their rented Clearwater condo and talked about how some people, such as Derek Jeter and Tiger Woods, seem to have been born to shine in the public eye, while most others have to learn the skill. They agreed that Heidi's expertise in that regard has been immensely beneficial to her husband. "She definitely helped me with a lot of my interview skills and public speaking," Cole said.