Ever wonder what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the Cole Hamels stare? You know the one — that withering look he’s known to give on occasion when the home plate umpire’s being stingy with strike calls, or an outfielder makes a bonehead play. I felt that same chill as Cole looked me in the eyes and said, “I’m not talking about the kids.”
Oddly enough, talking about kids was exactly what we needed to do. We were sitting at a swanky Center City hotel back in September, days after the season ended. I was there to write about his wife, Heidi, and her work with their charity, the Hamels Foundation, for this month’s issue of Philadelphia magazine. The foundation funnels all the money it raises to help schools here in Philadelphia (to the tune of $790,000), in Heidi and Cole’s hometowns, and in the African nation of Malawi. In this age where everyone’s famous, and you’re nobody unless you’re a brand, it’s easy to roll our eyes at folks like them. He’s the World Series MVP pitcher; she’s the former Survivor star who posed for Playboy and, well, married that stud lefty. But they’re doing something special, and Heidi is a special kind of driven. As fierce as Cole is on the mound, she’s equally as focused on giving children a future through education.
Cole is also fiercely private. So when I began our chat by mentioning one of their kids — a girl they adopted from Ethiopia and two boys — Cole went on the defensive. Once I explained that I’d already met their son, Caleb, and that my story was mostly about Heidi and the foundation, he relaxed. In a few minutes, they were happily walking me through their journey together, from the day they met, to Heidi’s latest trip to Malawi where their $3.5 million school is being built.
But as a writer who covers sports and a lifelong Phillies fan, I wanted to talk baseball, too. At the photo shoot for this story, Heidi was posing for some solo shots while Cole stood off to the side, alone. I wasn’t sure if the guy who seemed ready to strangle me earlier would be in the mood for small talk, especially after a season he’d like to forget. Instead, he couldn’t have been more relaxed. “Our hitting sucked,” he admitted, and if you listened closely, you could hear Phillies fans everywhere reply in unison, “Amen, brother.” Even so, he hoped the team would make bolstering the pitching staff a priority in this off-season — a wish that, with yesterday’s offers to Kyle Kendrick and Antonio Bastardo, may go unfulfilled in any meaningful way.
Cole was also blunt about how the team was just as ugly internally as it looked from the stands. “The energy in the clubhouse changed,” he said. “It used to be all high fives. This season, there weren’t as many high fives. There was a lot of bitterness, pointing fingers — ‘You haven’t played well in a week, why weren’t you in here early?’”
Despite that tension and a growing pessimism among the fan base, Cole was optimistic about the future. It didn’t seem like lip service or a party line he’d been fed by the front office. He admitted the Phillies were guilty of putting off the process of rebuilding. “You have to know when to start over,” he said. “Will our fans be happy with that? Probably not. We won’t win 100 games next season. But with another wild card, we can definitely get into the playoffs.”
Cole sees talent and dedication among some of the young players who stepped up late in the year. He also sees himself in a way he never had before — as a team leader, much as guys like Pat Burrell were to him when Cole was a rookie.
Through it all, from his first taste of the big leagues to the parade on Broad Street — and now, in tougher times — Heidi has been by his side. Get to know her and you’ll understand the Phillies ace in a way you never had before. You may even feel inspired to join the other team he’s a part of — the one led by his wife.
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