That's all I could think about last Wednesday night as I walked around my house, scotch in hand, trying to absorb the Cole Hamels trade news. It seemed silly to cry, but that's what I did. The sense of loss was real. My favorite player would no longer play for my favorite team. He was going to go be someone else's favorite player on their favorite team. Sadly, yelling "NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!" repeatedly in the general direction of Philadelphia didn't stop anything from happening. I had put off acceptance for so long -- I could say out loud and on Twitter that Hamels should be, would be, had to be traded, but that's as far as I let my mind go. Intellectually, I understood. Emotionally, I didn't prepare even a little. Imagining a Phillies team without Cole Hamels was not something I let myself do.
So now I'm here, nearly a week later, still trying to work through my feelings about Cole Hamels, the Phillies, and why all of this means so much to me.
Cole Hamels was the first baseball player that I truly, unreservedly loved. Chase Utley is ruggedly handsome and he plays with a grit and dedication that's alluring, but his aloofness puts up a wall. There is no such wall with Cole Hamels. He said what he felt, carried dogs in bags, did weird advertisements, and threw himself into Shane Victorino's charity fashion shows. I loved him.
I have a lot of Hamels memories that will bring me warm, happy feelings for a long time to come. His World Series starts. His CGSO against the Reds in the 2010 postseason. His home runs. His no-hitter, which he threw on my birthday a few weekends ago. But one memory that stands out doesn't even feature Hamels playing baseball. The night before my birthday in 2012, news broke that the Phillies had signed Cole Hamels to a 6-year, $137.5m contract extension. I was up late, and I got to write about it. I had been terrified that the Phillies would let Hamels go. At that point, fans hadn't experienced the 2013 and 2014 Phillies, so the sudden mediocrity of the 2012 squad seemed like just a blip after the 2011 season. I couldn't imagine the Phillies getting rid of him when there was still so much winning to do. And to me and my innocent, naive view of the future, this contract meant that Hamels would be the ace on the next Phillies team to win the World Series. It meant that one day, he'd retire a Phillie and I'd never have to watch him pitch in another uniform. That night, I got to imagine the future, and it was bright. A Phillies team with new faces and old, taking the postseason by storm and ending it all with an ecstatic, celebratory dogpile. The next day, I turned 29 and spent the day drinking scotch, watching baseball, and eating lobster I boiled myself, all while wearing my Cole Hamels jersey and a gigantic, beaming smile.
How naive that was. And that's why this hurts so much. This isn't how things were supposed to be.
This trade brings us closer to The New Phillies. The New Phillies have no 2008 veterans. The New Phillies are young-ish, mildly unfamiliar, and not very good. These aren't the guys who will bring the Phillies another world championship. They're the guys who will lead to those guys. So they're more the Transitional Phillies. The team that will help guide us away from the team and players we knew toward a new tomorrow. I like to think that the New Phillies, Andy MacPhail's Phillies, live in the world of tomorrow and are simply waiting for us to get there. But to get there, they had to trade their most valuable asset. And that valuable asset was also the only truly great thing to watch on the Phillies, and our only visible link to how good the past really was. Ryan Howard has long since declined, and Chase Utley's year, now stunted by a DL stint, has been unspeakably atrocious. Carlos Ruiz's decline has sped up and taken a sharp nosedive down an abandoned elevator shaft. Cliff Lee will never pitch for the Phillies again, if ever. Roy Halladay retired. And so Cole's departure feels a lot more significant, since he was the only remaining evidence of how dominant those teams and rotations truly were. Without him, we're left with a lot of young, inexperienced players, and older veterans who are trying to squeeze out every drop of talent left in the tank. And memories. We're left with a lot of memories that feel bittersweet, especially when you look at the devastation of the Phillies' 2015 season. But with Cole Hamels traded, those memories can finally start their journey from bittersweet to being truly enjoyable again.
I'm going to miss Cole Hamels a lot, but I'm also going to miss what he represented. He represented a true Phillies success. Success in drafting, development, management, and more. He represented the success of the past. And he also represented hope for the future, whether by keeping him (which was always unlikely), or trading him for the Phillies of the future. And at some point, the return of the trade will comfort me. Any one of these guys could be a future superstar. But even if that actually happens, if one of those guys truly pans out, it won't be the same. It can't make up for what's been lost in Cole Hamels. A future that could have been were it not for a combination of bad timing and bad management. A small part of me will always be angry at the Phillies for fucking up one of the best things to ever happen to them. They drafted and developed an ace pitcher and couldn't put together even a mediocre team to keep him in the city.
What IS comforting to me in all of this is that now the Cole Hamels Love Club gets to expand. Rangers fans will now know and understand what it's like to have Cole Hamels pitching for their team, and they'll love him too. Between @holly_holl and @unlikelyfanatic, I know Cole will be well taken care of. We're sort of a fan family now, linked by this outstanding player. But Phillies fans will always have the original claim to Hamels, and in the end, that's how I can make peace with this. Without the Phillies, and even to an extent the fans, Cole Hamels isn't the pitcher he is today. We're his origin story. We're part of his DNA now, and always will be. And that's why we don't ever have to say goodbye.
Some players transcend team affiliation, and Cole Hamels is one of them. I'll always love him, and he'll always be a Phillie to me.