I remember buying a Cole Hamels shirsey in pretty short order once the team started marketing his name and likeness circa 2006/2007. The purchase was made as a result of this near-indisputable argument: "He's young. Left-handed. And throws punches with his pitching hand. This is the guy."
Of course, as time went on, Cole seemed less and less like a bar brawler. We made fun of his voice and none of his personality traits were really an issue because the guy won the World Series MVP in just his third season and broke our city's 25-year championship drought. At that point, all we had on him, other than the voice impersonations (this being my personal favorite), was the idea that he was just "a little too California for this town" (It should be noted, of course, that Chase Utley is also from California and he's been pegged as the prototypical Philadelphia athlete, so none of these stereotypes really mean anything).
ANYWAY, fast-forward one year and October 2009 nearly ruined everything. Just twelve months after Cole was one of the select group who wore all-black in the parade, his public reputation with Phils fans hit its low point. He showed up his teammates after a botched play in the field, appeared sullen and defeated in a postgame press conference and just wished for the season to be over.
Cole Hamels doesn't have what it takes to play in this town. He doesn't know what being a Philadelphia athlete is all about. He doesn't get that you don't show up the best defensive shortstop in the game on the biggest stage in baseball. He wants it to be over? Well so do we. See you later, Hollywood.
Remember that talk? Or this talk?
Every year since, Cole Hamels has become a better pitcher. And for a guy who appeared to lack a certain mental toughness -- or any kind of toughness really, you know, with the voice and all -- he grew as a starter and a leader in spite of losing his position as the club's ace to not one, not two, but (arguably) three guys.
He didn't pout, sob, demand a trade or publicly complain that he has lost his spot after winning the World Series MVP just two years prior. Instead, he learned from Cliff and Doc and Roy, and now, in 2012, he's the best pitcher on the staff. Granted, it's been a small sample size, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would label Cole's early season performance an aberration.
This all leads us to Sunday night, when he intentionally threw at Nationals rookie Bryce Harper. His logic:
“It’s just, ‘Welcome to the big leagues,’” Hamels said in the clubhouse after eight dominating innings. “I was trying to hit him. I mean, I’m not going to deny it.”
“I think they understood the messages, and they threw it right back, and I think that’s the way it [should be done], and I respect it.”
“Oh yeah, that’s baseball. I’m kind of happy that’s the way it works, because that’s the way it should."
"I grew up playing the game hard and watching it, and that’s the way it was, and I’d hate for them to change it, which has kind of happened in recent years."
Hamels' actions and comments are now being almost unanimously celebrated in Philadelphia (if not in Washington or the national media). Really, check the comment threads on this or any other local site.
Awesome. Epic. Bad ass. Good on ya, Cole. I didn't know Hollywood had it in him. This guy gets it.
And there you have it. We've come 360 degrees on Cole Hamels. First, he was a bar-brawling, changeup-throwing menace. Then, he was a pretty boy wuss who had no business putting on a Phillies uniform. And now, he's so valued we're desperately worried about whether we have the money to keep him in case another team (from "Hollywood," go figure) wants to steal him with the aid off an obscene pile of cash, because not only is he one of the best pitchers in the game, but he's also an old-school baseball vet who knows that you throw at the loudmouthed rookie when he's getting a little big for his britches.
Cole Hamels: So Philly.