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.”
Heidi Hamels will hate the way this story begins.
But this is where her story must begin, because without it, the farm girl never becomes a celebrity, which is how she meets a handsome young man with a wicked changeup who asks her to marry him, and that handsome man doesn’t win a World Series, or tell his wife that her passion is his passion and yes, to take briefcases full of his money and create a foundation that will, without exaggeration, save the lives of children in a far-away country he’s never stepped foot in, and to adopt an orphan from another far-away country, and while she’s at it, to give a little hope to the rundown public schools in the city they now call home.
So the story starts here: Heidi Strobel, as she was known then, standing on a wooden perch in the middle of a blackwater river in the Amazon, hungry and exhausted in the way that makes you do strange things, preparing to take her clothes off for Oreo cookies and peanut butter and a soda in front of what would later be a national television audience. To everyone watching—maybe even herself—it seemed as though she’d traded her dignity for a snack and a morsel of fame, without knowing she was actually about to take her first step toward something much bigger. Naked and unafraid, Heidi jumped.
Heidi Hamels would prefer to begin just about anywhere else, like the first time we meet. Though she usually avoids the word “celebrity,” that’s what she is, and has been, to varying degrees, since her appearance on season six of CBS’s Survivor 10 years ago. We are introduced at XIX, the restaurant high atop the Bellevue with stunning views of the skyline, where Heidi has just been honored as one of the city’s most fashionable women by Nicole Miller Philadelphia. The 35-year-old looks the part—perfectly put-together in a silvery-gray dress that shows off her toned figure, kleig-light smile, blond hair extensions spiraling across her slim shoulders. When Heidi stands up from her table to greet me, she shimmers. “Would you like some food?” she offers, before ordering steak frites and a glass of cabernet. “Do you mind if I eat while we talk?”
By her side is G-N Kang, the director of operations for the Philadelphia office of the Hamels Foundation, the nonprofit Heidi and her husband, 29-year-old Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, launched in 2008. G-N opens her chrome-shelled MacBook and scrolls through photos from the foundation’s latest trip to Malawi, in September. The African nation holds a number of unwanted distinctions, including more than half a million children orphaned by AIDS and the title of eighth poorest country in the world. I know these things because Heidi tells them to me in a breathless burst, like a five-year-old who just can’t wait to tell you a story! Her passion project is a $3.5 million primary school her foundation is building in the village of Namunda, where young girls are more likely to become prostitutes than high-school graduates. Many Malawian children are raised by their grandparents, because their parents are dead. Every graduate of a Hamels Foundation school will have seven skill sets that will hopefully translate into jobs someday. G-N finally speaks, explaining that the act of fetching water there requires a five-mile walk, then five more back home. “Great point, G-N,” Heidi says. “Such a great point. Glad you brought that up.”
Some people would describe Heidi as a “force of nature.” Others might call her simply annoying—so unrelenting with all the Africa stuff. Okay, yes, we get it, you’re saving the world. But consider that Forbes recently named the Hamels Foundation “an athlete charity that actually works,” because 100 percent of the money it raises is invested in Africa and the places Heidi and Cole have called home—San Diego and Philadelphia and Springfield, Missouri. Of all the athletes and their wives in this town, only two other couples—Chase and Jen Utley and Jimmy and Johari Rollins—have achieved such name-recognition status. They also run their own worthwhile charities. But the Hamelses have both local and global goals, and live like they preach—last fall, they adopted an orphaned baby girl from Ethiopia. Their annual “Diamonds and Denim” fete has become one of the city’s must-attend social events. Heidi and Cole are the closest thing Philadelphia has to Brangelina. As Heidi later tells me, “I hate to even use another celebrity in an interview, because you don’t want to take their idea as your own, but Angelina Jolie one time said, ‘I hope nobody remembers me as an actress. I hope everybody remembers me as a U.N. ambassador.’”
Yes, she says “another celebrity,” as if she and Angie are in the same club. Perhaps you find that distasteful or laughable—or honest, because it’s true, to a degree. Heidi doesn’t really care what you think of her, as long as the foundation’s mission—her mission—is understood. Somewhere in the middle of her Malawi filibuster at XIX, Heidi shares two anecdotes that help tell her story, to explain how she went from reality-TV star to international do-gooder. We’ll save one tale for later. The other happened after she’d finished Survivor, when she asked the show’s host, Jeff Probst, why she’d been selected to compete.
“He said they picked me because I was strong and tough,” she says, “but that the GP—that’s the general public—wouldn’t believe a pretty blonde could be smart. That’s when I knew I was in trouble.”
If you passed by Vie on N. Broad St. last night, you might have caught a glimpse a Phillies player dressed in his favorite denim attending The Hamels Foundation’s fourth annual Diamonds and Denim event. Diamonds and Denim mixes casual with formal, providing a unique atmosphere for guests to dress up their favorite denim with as much “bling” as they want! Attendees enjoyed an evening of cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a three-course dinner, participated in a silent auction and live auction (with some pretty creative items), and took in a private concert by Lifehouse.
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Cole and Heidi Hamels have always been one of Philadelphia’s most beautiful couples—but it turns out they’re beautiful on the inside, too. We’ll get the details tonight on 6 ABC:
— Jeff Skversky (@JeffSkversky) February 7, 2013
Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels plans a sitdown with School Supt. William Hite soon; The Notebook reports he’s angry that the list of Philadelphia public schools slated for closure includes three schools to which he’s donated playground and library equipment.
Hamels Foundation operations officer G-N Kang said she and other officials were “shocked and surprised” to find that three Hamels-supported schools were on the District’s list of 37 proposed closures. The schools include Bayard Taylor Elementary, whose new $317,000 playground opened last summer; Wilson Elementary, which received a $50,000 playground in 2010; and Shaw Middle School, which received a $50,000 “family resource and professional development center” for its library in 2011.
Kang said that the foundation would lobby to keep the three schools open, as well as Fairhill Elementary, which has received foundation support for adult literacy programs.
Hamels sits down with Hite before the end of this month, but he may not have any leverage by virtue of his donations: “Legally it was a donation,” Kang said. ”So at the end of the day, they have the final say.” [The Notebook]
Cole Hamels doesn’t feel so hot. The Phils ace will miss his Wednesday start against the Mets due to gastrointestinal illness. Yum. Instead of spending anytime worrying about the details of that, we’ll focus on the fact that the Phillies have called up Tyler Cloyd to make his Major League debut in Hamels’ place. Cloyd is a 25-year-old RHP who has posted a 12-1 record with Lehigh Valley this season.
Last night at the Crystal Tea Room, Heidi and Cole Hamels hosted their third annual Diamonds and Denim gala to raise money for the Hamels Foundation, which supports inner-city schools in the U.S., as well as Malawi’s one million orphans and victims of the AIDS/HIV virus. Here with the Hamels is model, actress, and choreographer Tammy Jean (second from right), wearing “body art” by Kerry Ann Smith (left) from About Face II.
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Yesterday in Hunting Park, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, wife Heidi Hamels, board members and sponsors cut the ribbon on Bayard Taylor Elementary’s newly renovated playground. Where there was once a bleak blacktop more conducive to a parking lot, there are now jungle gyms, spinning chairs, basketball and soccer courts, a gorgeous greenhouse, an area to play board games, and an iPad station. It’s not your mother’s playground. All this was made possible by a $300,000 grant from the Hamels Foundation, as well as support from several generous sponsors. Check out PhillyChitChat.com for more photos of the event and playground. Below: G-N Kang (director of operations of Hamels Foundation), Debra Drossner (principal at Bayard Taylor Elementary), Heidi Hamels, Cole Hamels, David Montgomery (Phillies president), James Sheehan and Justin Wineburgh.
The day Cole Hamels announced he’d signed the contract of a lifetime, I said goodbye to the biggest Phillies fan I know. Bianca Lombardo was 86 years old when she died this past Sunday. She was the last survivor of her six siblings, and since her sister, Elsie—my grandmother—passed away nearly two decades ago, she was my link to my father’s extended family, the connection to my Italian heritage. She was my dad’s aunt, but to me, my cousins and many others, she was Aunt Babs. Read more »
This morning, we awoke to the fantastic news that Cole Hamels and the Phils had inked a deal to keep the ace playing his home games in Citizens Bank Park through the 2018 season. The cost? Only $144 million. The pricey deal means that the Phils will likely look to unload some obligations this year, so that they don’t have to pay the luxury tax this year and a higher rate next year. ESPN’s Jayson Stark suggests that that means shopping Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton.
So that means they’re still likely to shop Victorino, who has about $3.5 million in salary coming for this year, and Joe Blanton, who has slightly over $3 million left and appears to have stirred a little interest with five quality starts in his last seven starts.
He also says that the asking price for Hunter Pence is likely too high for the team to find a willing suitor. The Phils are in last place and—two weeks ago—it looked like they’d be having a fire sale this week. But, they’ve won seven of their last ten games, inked Hamels to a massive deal, and hold a 5-1 lead over the Brewers (UPDATE: Womp, womp) thanks to multiple hits from Erik Kratz and Chase Utley. How quickly things change. [ESPN]