Hamels growing a rabid fanbase
Young lefty mowing down batters, gaining web of appreciation
PHILADELPHIA -- As Cole Hamels continues to baffle National League hitters, the lanky southpaw is gaining a growing stable of fans who have become Hamels worshippers.
One Web site has even gone so far to come up with a list of fictional facts as to why Hamels is off to a torrid pace in his sophomore season.
"It's funny to hear how involved some of them have gotten," Hamels said. "I remember the first time someone sent it to me, there were 200 [reasons], and I thought 10 was a lot."
Always humble, Hamels said he rarely checks out the site, but is often reminded of its existence by family members and friends -- some who have purchased T-shirts, hats or mugs -- so he's not exactly trying to escape from it, either.
"Why not?" he said. "They're keeping it fun and interesting, and I'm sure they'll keep coming up with some fun innuendos. It's how you build your fanbase."
Hamels' quick ascent toward becoming one of the NL's top young pitchers has played the largest role in developing his fanbase. His previous outing began with six perfect innings against the Brewers. After that game, teammates and coaches felt he would eventually throw a no-hitter or perfect game, if not several. Hamels himself said he expects to throw at least one every year.
In a little more than a calendar year since making his big-league debut on May 12, 2006, in Cincinnati, Hamels has gone 15-9 with a 3.83 ERA in 32 starts, comparable to the 15-10 record and 3.46 ERA of Jim Palmer in 1966 -- his first full season as a starter. It's also close to the 16-13 record and 2.76 ERA of Tom Seaver in 1967.
Future Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson can't compare. Maddux went 6-14 with a 5.61 ERA as a rookie in 1987; Glavine went 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA in 1988 and Johnson 7-13 with a 4.82 ERA in 1989.
In a recent Sports Illustrated article, 11 big-league talent evaluators were asked to pick their dream rotation from among pitchers with less than a year of big-league service time. After Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka (eight first-place votes), Hamels received two first-place votes.
The praise has not been overlooked by Hamels' teammates.
"When he kneels to say his bedtime prayers, he overhears God thanking himself for creating Cole Hamels," said Adam Eaton, given the task of adding a fact to the already the extensive list.
"There's usually a breaking-in period, but this guy comes with a great makeup, a gifted left arm, a good mind and a good set of eyes to watch the game," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "And he's willing to learn fast from his experiences."
With each start brings a new epiphany for Hamels, who smiles when he hears opposing hitters say they can't hit his changeup even when they know it's coming."A lot of guys' changes go down or away," Eaton said. "His goes down and away. That's the kind of movement I'm looking for with my slider. It's pretty special to watch." Still striving to get better, Hamels has toyed with a curveball this season, having seen fellow southpaws Barry Zito, Ted Lilly and former teammate Randy Wolf use theirs effectively and watched lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard flail at them. So the kid with a deadly change and effective mid-90s fastball has added that pitch, too.
The early results have been mixed, but look out once he masters it. He said he's too aggressive with it, struggling to throw it for strikes because he's trying to throw it at the same arm speed as his change and fastball."I'm thinking it has to be like a Brett Myers' 82-mph curveball to be successful, and it doesn't have to be." Hamels said. "Randy Wolf and those guys throw it at 69 mph. I just have to slow myself down."
Not too long ago, the kid with a highest level of self confidence doubted whether he'd ever be in the position to pitch to Major League hitters, let alone have a URL address in his honor. Having to endure two injury-filled seasons in 2004 and 2005, Hamels watched as Jeff Francoeur and Scott Kazmir -- two members of his 2002 First-Year Player Draft class -- found success in the Majors.
"I thought I would always hurt something else," Hamels said. "When you're trying to come off the disabled list and focus on one area, then another area gets hurt, and you spend 23 hours in the training room and the other hour in the insane asylum. Injuries prevent you from being at the top of your game."
Thirty-two big-league starts later, Hamels is reaching the top, thanks to a rigorous daily workout regimen that keeps his lower back in shape. Since Hamels doesn't know how to do anything at less than 100 percent, he embraces it as the only means of pitching until he's 45 -- a la teammate Jamie Moyer.
Imagine how many Hamels facts there will be then."He once finished the 12-minute run in 11 minutes," Chris Coste said. "The H.O.V. lane was created for Hamels and his changeup," Clay Condrey added.
"Cole Hamels doesn't need a comb," Myers quipped. "When he rolls out of bed, his hair is already perfect.""Nice," Hamels said, with a laugh. "That one is pretty much true." Hamels also laughs with he thinks of the white pinstriped zoot suit he was forced to wear last May as part of a rookie hazing from teammates. Back then, he was considered a newbie with enormous potential and a long career ahead of him. A year later, he's well on his way.
"It's going to be one of my Halloween costumes," he said of the suit. "It doesn't seem like it was too long ago. Shoot, I still consider myself a rookie anyway. I'm the youngest guy on the team. It's hard to consider yourself old and experienced when you're the youngest guy on the team. I think it's always been the case everywhere I've gone."
It's just part of being Cole Hamels.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.