SAN DIEGO — Cole Hamels still has a residence in the Philadelphia suburbs. In fact, he was planning on some midseason R&R there until a little thing called the All-Star Game popped up on his calendar.
Hamels is fine with the detour.
Tuesday night’s All-Star Game will be played in the town in which he was raised.
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“I guess you could say it was on my bucket list,” he said Monday.
The last time the All-Star Game touched down in San Diego was 1992. Hamels was eight. His parents went to the game and got to sit behind Tom Selleck. He stayed home.
Hamels’ parents will be in the stands again Tuesday night. Their son is expected to pitch the third inning, if all goes according to plan, for the American League.
This is Hamels’ fourth trip to the All-Star Game. Of course, the previous three came when he was with the Phillies, the team that drafted him in 2002, the team with which he came of age and became the 2008 World Series MVP.
Hamels loved being a Phillie. But when the magic ceased and the losing seasons started piling up, he made it clear that he wanted to be traded to a team that had a chance to win. Fifty weeks ago, former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. pulled the trigger and sent Hamels and reliever Jake Diekman to the Texas Rangers for six players. The deal could end up benefiting both clubs. The Rangers, helped by Hamels’ nine wins, have the best record in the American League and legitimate World Series aspirations. The Phillies are already getting contributions from Jerad Eickhoff, one of the pitchers they got from the Rangers for Hamels, and pitcher Jake Thompson, outfielder Nick Williams and catcher Jorge Alfaro, all potential difference makers, aren’t far away.
Hamels got used to going to the playoffs with the Phillies from 2007 to 2011. When he got back there with the Rangers last fall, it was like reconnecting with a lost love.
“Oh, 100 percent,” the lefty, now 32, said. “Being able to be in that environment — sellout crowds, the intensity of every out and every run — that's what gets the adrenaline flowing. That's what makes the sacrifices that we make in the offseason and spring training worth it.”
Hamels still keeps in touch with some of his old teammates. One wasn’t even a teammate for very long. But he said he does exchange text messages with Aaron Nola, the 23-year-old pitcher who was called up just before Hamels was traded last July. Nola had few problems while recording a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts. His last five have been shaky. Hamels knows the feeling.
“He’s good,” Hamels said of Nola. “He really is. He’s had success. He will figure it out. It's a chess match. Sometimes the opposing team gets you a little bit before you finally figure it out. If you don't lose that confidence, that's how you get yourself to another elite level. And he'll be there.”
Hamels keeps tabs on the Phillies' progress. He believes they are headed in the right direction. He raves about the electricity that filled the town when the Phillies were winning. It dropped off toward the end of his time with the club, but he’s confident it will return.
“I miss the sellouts,” he said. “I miss the energy, the energy around the city when the team is going well. Every day you woke up and people were excited to talk about the game. They couldn't wait to get tickets to go to the game or talk about last night's game — just the importance of baseball in that everyday life. It made you feel like you were doing something great.
“Now they’re rebuilding and I think they are doing it right. That city's going to love it. When you see [the electricity] again, it's going to be great.”