"I've always admired Tom Hanks, you know, Hugh Jackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon. I like those guys as actors, plus the way they appear in the press, it's always good. They're very aware of having a good image and being stand-up people. I guess that's kind of shown me the way."
IT'S DIFFICULT to believe now, but not so long ago many people doubted that Hamels would ever be invited to the lowliest baseball card show, let alone to hobnob with Dave and Ellen. He had a propensity for getting injured that was so alarming that Baseball Prospectus once likened him to "Fabergé eggs, china dolls and ice sculptures."
It all started when Hamels broke his arm in a summer league game following his sophomore year of high school, in 2000. His humerus, the bone between the shoulder and elbow of his throwing arm, snapped in mid-pitch. "It was something I never want to see again," says Mark Furtak, his pitching coach at Rancho Bernardo High. "The ball sailed over the backstop, he crumbled to the mound, and his face just went white."
Surgery repaired the fracture, but a variety of other ailments limited Hamels to a total of 152 minor league innings from 2003 through '05. In his two full seasons in the big leagues, however, he has thrown 410 2/3 innings, and his 227 1/3 innings last season trailed only Santana's 234 1/3 in the National League. This newfound durability is due partly to his marriage to Heidi. "She taught me the proper ways of taking care of myself and working out," says Hamels. His rigorous training sessions can run to six hours a day—he even does a full abdominal workout on the days he starts—and he hasn't felt anything but perfectly healthy in more than a year.
However, an incident at a Clearwater bar called Razzel's Lounge almost sidelined his career before it started. At Razzel's, four quarters will buy you two tablets identified by the handwritten sign on the men's-room vending machine as MAX AROUSE SEX STIMULENT (sic). There's cold Jägermeister on tap, and the SMOKING PERMITTED signs on the front doors serve as more of an enticement than a warning. In short, Razzel's, which is located in a strip mall across a side street from the original Hooters restaurant, is not the kind of establishment the Phillies like their players to frequent. In fact the organization has for years assessed a $500 fine to any minor leaguer whose car is spotted in the parking lot.
It was in that lot, however, that Hamels broke his pitching hand in January 2005, during a brawl between a handful of minor leaguers and a few Clearwater residents. One of the latter, a young man named T.J. Ferrol, hit on the girlfriend of Edward Buzachero, a member of the Blue Jays organization. The groups exchanged insults and eventually punches; in the end a friend of Ferrol's was thrown into a nearby lake and Ferrol himself was stomped on and kicked in the face. He was hospitalized and received eight stitches beneath his left eye. "I swear there were eight guys beating me up," says Ferrol, who is now 27 and works in customer service at the Men's Wearhouse in Clearwater, "but maybe with all the punches it just felt like eight."
The Phillies' general manager at the time, Ed Wade, was apoplectic ("I've never been yelled at like that in my life," says Hamels) and rescinded the young pitcher's invitation to big league camp, where he wouldn't have been of much use anyway with a fractured hand. The other Phillies minor leaguers involved in the fight, lesser pitching prospects Lee Gwaltney and Beau Richardson, were released—the former almost immediately and the latter during the season. "We try to treat all of our players fairly," says Phillies G.M. Ruben Amaro, who was then an assistant to Wade, "but some players we treat more fairly than others." (Hamels still counts Gwaltney and Richardson as friends.)
Ferrol declined to press charges. "Both sides were partying," he says. "It happens. If I had pressed charges, maybe the Phillies would have dropped [Hamels] and he would have never made the World Series. I'm an athlete too—I play soccer—and we have to stick together. I hope Hamels knows that I have no hard feelings."
Those close to Hamels consider the fight an aberration ("He's a cruise ship, not a battleship," says Lonergan), an expression of fraternal loyalty more than anything else, but Hamels recognizes the damage the incident did to his reputation. "What I would do now is just get away," he says. These days his idea of a big night is watching DVDs with Heidi. "We've got The Dark Knight," he says. "We've got The Duchess...."
JUST 15 more minutes, Cole, and we'll have you out of here," one of the giclée-on-canvas promoters was saying.