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As Cole Hamels teaches us, we cannot fight time

It remains undefeated

2022 World Series Game 3: Houston Astros v. Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

“But meanwhile, time flies; it flies never to be regained.” – Virgil

In Philadelphia Phillies history, there will always be the Big Four.





Of course they were supplemented with other names that will live on in team lore, names that perhaps one of you fancy more than that quartet, but in terms of what they meant to the franchise, the four players that stand out will always be the ones that entered the organization on the ground floor. People who watch baseball fall in love with those players that put their noses to the proverbial grindstone at the lowest of minor league rungs, clinging to those players whose names are selected during the draft like a child that adopts a new favorite toy. Though one may love a Shane Victorino, he of the boundless enthusiasm displayed on a near daily basis, or a Jayson Werth, he of the diamond in the rough that filled in cracks in the team’s foundation, or a Placido Polanco, he of the steady glove and whiff-less plate appearances, the names of the Big Four that represented the greatest stretch in franchise history will always be held in reverence amongst the team’s followers.

Many fans today grew up watching those four improve together, win together, get close together and cherish the memories that they helped provide. Yet for a substantial part of the fanbase, the champions of 1980 hold a greater significance as the first team to hoist the trophy in franchise history, shattering the final glass ceiling the team seemingly could never break through. Their place in team history is etched in stone, as the ones who come first always are.

Still, that team and that parade and that one night in October when Philadelphia was on top of the baseball world is over forty years old. Many of those fans are being lost. The team that took the city on a wonderful ride in 2008 is more recent, digging a fresher mine in our memory that we can look back on. It’s those players that many of us can relate to more readily since we had not yet entered our full adulthood where the realities that come along with it diminish the importance of the modern athlete. When we’re younger, more impressionable, those athletes can do no wrong. Yet when we see them now, it pings a certain worry. The one that all of us think about, but push to the edges of conscious thought.

We are getting old.

“Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going.” – Sam Levenson

There are so many things that we love doing. Hobbies are plentiful these days, whether they be something we do in the comfort of our home, ones that can be performed with the slightest of physical output and still those that require us to dig deep with our strength to complete. On a personal level, there is no one that tells you when to stop, no one who tells you that you can no longer do what you love to do. You just....know.

Those who have played sports before know that feeling. The twinge in your knee, the pain when you throw a baseball or softball back across the diamond, the pull at the back of your leg going for a ball in the corner in soccer. Those are the reminders that you have reached a certain point where it’s time to quit.

Professional athletes are different.

Not only are they doing the sport they choose as their chosen profession, most still display an intense love of the game, a desire to excel at the highest level there is. In baseball, we’ve come to accept that at certain ages in a player’s career, those nasty late thirties, players should do what’s best and step away. Often times, those thoughts that we as fans are put down in virtual ink, think pieces that are written with the best of intentions (“....for the good of the team”) that rarely consider how a player himself feels about the sentiment being expressed.

Prior to the announcement that Cole Hamels was retiring, there was likely only a handful of people that even knew he was attempting yet another comeback from shoulder woes that have kept him from throwing off of a major league mound since this in 2020.

He soldiered on, signing on with various teams in hopes of his once feared left shoulder being able to gain strength enough to help a major league club, yet always falling short. His arm was simply not going to cooperate to the point where he or his team felt confident enough to get back on to a mound.

Yet even as he tried and tried and tried, too many people told him to stop.

To give up and ride off into the sunset.

Whether it be stubbornness, pride or a voice inside that prodded him to continue forward, Hamels pressed on.

We watched, seeing small alerts that another minor league deal was signed, another attempt was revving its engines, and we bowed our heads. Wishing he would end it, to have someone give him the pat on the back and whisper, “That’ll do.” It hurt too much to see a former champion, waylaid by ailments that fell even the most durable of pitcher, knowing one of our own was just succumbing to both injury and time, age catching up with him as it does for us all. But who are we to tell him to quit? Sure we can see that things are not quite the same, but that doesn’t give us the right to tell someone like Hamels to hang up the spikes. Should he try to throw one more pitch, one more dastardly changeup that fools a hitter into a foolish looking swing, it would be worth it for him and that should be good enough for us.

“You may delay, but time will not.” – Benjamin Franklin

It is depressing when one of our own ages. In sports, we cling to our favorites in the hopes that there might still be something they can do that will recall a memory made because of them. We were robbed of seeing two of the Big Four age on a more forgiving curve, stuck having to watch Howard and Utley have various portions of their bodies betray them for the final time. We’ll never know of the minor nicks and bruises that athletes play through on a daily basis, but the major injuries happen before our eyes. Watching Howard crumple to the ground in 2011 served as the beginning of the end of the dynasty that brought us together as a fanbase. It was almost painful to watch him, acknowledging he’d probably never be the same again. Knowing how much pain Utley was going through just to get himself ready to go on the field made us all age just a little bit faster.

But what we really all knew, what we all sensed, is that as those players age out, move on into the sunset, we are doing the same.

Watching Werth and Howard and Victorino and Hamels take the field during the 2022 World Series, the first thought that crossed my mind was not one of happiness at how good they looked. Instead, it was me realizing that I was watching the game with my eight year old son, his twin sister aimlessly scrolling through YouTube, completely uninterested in the festivities. Their five year old sister had already gone to bed while my wife prepared the night’s snacks and beverages. When those players were on the same field celebrating amongst the sea of red pinstripes and the cacophony of fireworks lighting the night sky, my wife and I weren’t even engaged at the time. We had just started dating, our shared love of the Phillies just one of the many things we have that bonded us together.

Now, with these and other Philadelphia legends throwing out a first pitch, I realized I had been in a new phase of life for a long time. These players had fought the same battle that I had and lost just as I have.

Time is undefeated.