"No problem," Hamels replied.
He had reached the last part of the evening's program, a question-and-answer session, and the fans in the Diamond Club crowded around him in a ragged semicircle, pushing closer as he cheerfully responded to their queries. Who is the toughest hitter you ever faced? (Manny Ramirez, definitely.) What was it like to win the World Series? (It was awesome!)
As he spoke, Heidi, who now sat on the opposite side of the room, talked about the couple's plans for the upcoming year. "We're in the process of adopting an AIDS orphan from Ethiopia," she said. "Maybe two. I'm so pumped. I'd adopt six if I could. When I was five years old—I grew up in a very rural town in Missouri, and I had never even seen a black person—they asked us to draw a picture of ourselves in the future, and I drew myself holding hands with a line of tiny black stick figures. I've always wanted this." She and Cole are also preparing, under the auspices of the fledgling Hamels Foundation, to build a girls' school in Malawi. Heidi has made a couple of monthlong research trips there. "We're not just doing it because it's the Brad and Angelina plan, but because we're in the position to do it and it's the right thing to do," she said.
Then eight o'clock arrived, and the final question was asked and answered, and Cole and Heidi and Boggs, the agent, made their exit. Outside, Cole wasn't smiling anymore, and he wasn't talking. His throat was sore, and his left hand was a little cramped from signing his name so many times. Most of all, he was tired.
"Now I'm starting to see the stress that all this creates," he had said on his couch in Clearwater five days before. "Heidi and I haven't been able to spend as much time together as we would like, because we've got to be here on this day because I have this to do. It's fun for the first hour, and then you're like, Oh, man, how many more days do I have to be here and do things?
"I've gotten some good rewards, but there's a point at which you have to be able to get out and keep your sanity. What I've been learning, and I'm glad I'm learning it, is if I just keep doing everything, it would wear me out. I don't want these side jobs to affect my real job, which is to go out and play baseball and to win."
Hamels was to return to Philadelphia the weekend after the Diamond Club appearance for some card shows and an awards banquet, but after that he planned to stay in Clearwater to train, without interruption, until he pitches on opening night, April 5, against the Atlanta Braves. "Next weekend, and I'm done," he said at the gate to the parking lot. "I'm just ready to put all my focus on my pitching. You know?"