Cole Hamels’ family sat in the back. They were to support the newest member of the millionaire aces club, which already includes Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, after Hamels and the Phillies agreed Wednesday on a six-year, $144 million contract extension.
As soon as Hamels exited the stage, his 3-year-old son, Caleb Michael — wearing his dad’s replica jersey — went racing toward him and shouted, “Hi Daddy!” Hamels scooped him up, slung him over his million-dollar arm and replied with a smile, “Did you have fun?”
By signing the deal — the largest one the Phillies have doled out to a player in franchise history and second-largest ever in MLB — Hamels ensured he’ll be in red pinstripes through the 2018 season. There is also a club/vesting option for 2019 with a no-trade provision.
The homegrown ace could have waited and filed for free agency at the end of the season. Instead, Hamels chose to remain with the ballclub that drafted him in the first round of the 2002 draft. He spouted off countless reasons why he potentially passed on more money, most notably the desire to remain a part of Phillie Nation. Hamels referenced the sellout crowds at Citizens Bank Park (270 consecutive to date) multiple times as a reason for staying.
“I was on the phone with my dad a couple days ago and I mentioned to him that I never imagined that I’d ever be in this position, ever, and I love this game so much,” Hamels said. “You want to go out and play for a reason and the reason is to win World Series, to play in front of sellout crowds, to play in front of a Phillie nation of fans everywhere that are showing up on the road, that are cheering you on. Those are the reasons that we play this game and want to play it for as long as we possibly can, until they take the ball out of our hand and tell us we can’t.”
The negotiations to retain Hamels began before spring training started. Neither side set a concrete deadline because Hamels wanted to keep the talks open. It took nearly seven months, but team and player finally hashed out the right deal.
“The motto is the Fightin’ Phils, so you never count them out until the very end,” Hamels said. “I wanted to give the Phillies every opportunity. It’s really hard to leave a place where you had so many great memories. You don’t want to stray away and see them win and you’re not a part of it. I understand that free agency is great … I really do feel this is the place that I do call home and I want to call home for a really long time.”
Brotherly Love strikes again
The ballpark was still pretty empty around noon, about an hour before first pitch between the Phillies and Brewers. But PA announcer Dan Baker came over the loudspeakers to inform fans to look up at PhanaVision to watch a special announcement. The organization was streaming the Cole Hamels’ press conference live. If there was ever an indication of how much the city loves its left-handed ace, there it was.
And Hamels shared that love right back. The pitcher said the thought of not playing in front of the Philly faithful was definitely on his mind last Saturday when he took the mound in what could have been his final start in a Phillies uniform.
“We play this game because we enjoy it, but we also play this game because there are fans that want to see us play it,” he said. “The fans are enjoying every single moment that we get to go out there and do the best that we can.”
Phillies president Dave Montgomery acknowledged that the organization considered those same feelings at the negotiation table. In the midst of a very disappointing season — the Phils are 44-54 — the team didn’t want to lose a fan favorite.
“We’ve been fortunate to have the good fan support and we wanted to do the things that hopefully give our fans the belief that good times lie ahead as well,” Montgomery said.
Hamels seemed to indicate that if he could play for free that he would.
“Money has never been the issue or reason why I get on that mound every day and try to win ball games,” Hamels said. “I know it just comes with it, but ultimately I play because I purely enjoy the game and want to win, and this, I feel, is the best opportunity for me to win another championship.”
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. quickly retorted by exclaiming, “You would have played for free?”
Well, not exactly. Hamels fully intends to cash that record-setting paycheck.
“I took an economics class, I know there’s no free lunch,” Hamels said.