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Burger talks baseball with World Series MVP

by Mark Burger

Burger talks baseball with World Series MVP

He’s 24 years old and on top of the world. And, thanks to Cole Hamels, a few million Philadelphia Phillies fans — including yours truly — feel the same way. That’s what happens when your team wins a championship… especially if it’s been 28 years since the last one. During the regular season, Hamels went 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA and 196 strikeouts, then went on a tear during the playoffs, winning the MVP of both the National League Championship Series and the World Series. And, had Game 5 of the Fall Classic not been interrupted by a rain delay that stretched nearly 48 hours, Hamels might well have become the first pitcher in baseball history to post a perfect 5-0 record in the postseason. But when you’ve got a World Series ring and a 4-0 postseason record (still perfect — and a Phillies record), those “what-ifs” don’t seem quite as important. Two new DVDs commemorate the Phillies world championship: The 8-DVD boxed set The Philadelphia Phillies 2008 World Series Collector’s Edition from A & E Home Video, and Shout! Factory’s 2008 World Series Film: Phillies vs. Rays, which is narrated by Terrence Howard and condenses all the action into a 90-minute documentary format. (See review, page 41.) Hamels, who turns 25 on Dec. 27, usually resumes his daily workout regimen as soon as the regular season ends. But, as any Phillies fan or baseball buff knows, 2008 was a little different. Since the World Series victory, Hamels has been on the promotional circuit, appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman” (in which he read the Top-10 List) and doing various interviews with award-winning journalists (like this one). Hamels says it’s sunk in that the Phillies are world champions, but he’s not quite over the victory parade, which took place on Friday, Oct. 31 and attracted over 2 million fans. What was supposed to be a 90-minute event along Broad Street instead turned into a five-hour epic celebration. “That was truly the moment we got to see,” says Hamels, “and how much it meant to the fans. That parade will stick with me every single year, whether I’m there or not… and I want to be there again.” Having endured injuries during both the 2006 and ’07 seasons, Hamels is no stranger to playing with discomfort. Shortly after the parade, both third baseman Pedro Feliz and All-Star second baseman Chase Utley underwent surgery. Feliz is expected to be recovered in time for Opening Day, but Utley may not be healthy enough to return until after the season starts. “We knew it [that Utley was hurt], but no one else did,” Hamels says. “Not everybody is healthy is every game. We know that, but you’ve just got to go out and do it.” Hamels doesn’t need to look far for inspiration. Fellow Phillies starter Jamie Moyer, who posted a 16-7 record during the 2008 season, is the oldest active player in the major leagues. At age 46, he’s almost twice Hamels’ age. “He just keeps going,” Hamels marvels. “He is the first one there [in the clubhouse] and the first one working out.” Does Hamels think he can pitch into his 40s? “I truly hope I can,” he says with a laugh. “There are days when I really don’t feel like pitching, but I’ll see Jamie and he’ll just give me that look: ‘What’s the matter with you?’ He’s an inspiration.” Looking back over the World Series, the MVP puts into perspective what made it special. Not so much the weather delay or the controversial calls by umpires (for both sides) or even his own contribution to the Phillies’ effort, but the fact that it was two teams coming into the Fall Classic at top speed, having confounded many of the experts to reach that plateau. “That’s what I think made it special,” Hamels observes. “It was the stars of the future — the up-and-coming stars — and people got to see them in action. We had fun. That’s what it takes.” As for Game 5, which was halted in the sixth inning with the score tied 2-2 because of a downpour, “I was definitely ready to finish the game off,” says Hamels. “I had everything from the season stored up and saved up.” The weather had other plans, and the decision of commissioner Bud Selig to suspend the game was greeted with some controversy and not a little derision. “Obviously, I would have liked to continue,” Hamels says, “but that’s life. It was an eye-opening experience, both for baseball and for me personally.” When Game 5 resumed, the Phillies were ready. It only took the remaining three innings to defeat the Rays and claim the title. “We had that fire,” Hamels says. “I think those were the more exciting three innings this city will ever see. I know I felt that way!” Hamels is not one to horde all the credit for himself. It may sound like a cliché, but theirs was a quintessential team effort. “It’s a family,” he says of his fellow Phillies, “and not everybody gets along all the time, but to get the job done, you’ve got to have the right type of guys and the right type of mix.” This year, clearly, the mix was right.

To comment on this story, e-mail Mark Burger at marksburger@yahoo.com.

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