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June 29, 2016

Hamels: Trade from Philly was 'perfect timing' to reboot career

NEW YORK – Last weekend, Cole Hamels stared out from inside the home dugout at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, and saw the man who traded him away from the only major league organization he’d ever called home.

Former embattled Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is in his first season as the first base coach for the Boston Red Sox. Eleven months ago, Amaro agreed to send Hamels, a former World Series MVP, to the Texas Rangers for a package of prospects he believed would help the organization’s rebuilding project.

“It’s funny,” Hamels said of his former boss’s career choice. “But hey, he loves the game of baseball. That’s awesome. He’s going a different path now. We’ll see how he goes. Hopefully, I’m still in this game long enough to see where he ends up too. It’s fun to see a different perspective of the game and be in a different league.”

A year after dominating headlines as baseball’s biggest trade chip and the game’s general manager on the hottest of hot seats, Hamels and Amaro are hurtling toward the same goal: returning to the World Series. With how both the Rangers and Red Sox are playing, there stands a good chance one of them will at least return to the postseason for the first time in five years.

Hamels, thanks in part to Amaro, has more control over his own path back to the playoffs.

Following a whirlwind of the start of summer a year ago – which included his celebrated career turning into one endless run of trade rumors, the worst start of his professional career, the no-hitter at the oldest ballpark in the National League, and then, finally, the trade – Hamels is both more relaxed and re-energized in 2016.

At 32-years old, Hamels is the same age Roy Halladay was when he made his own jump across leagues, leaving the only team he’d ever played for in an attempt to get the most out of the third act of his career. In Arlington, Hamels has replicated Halladay’s arrival in South Philly a half dozen years ago in giving his new team an immediate, proven leader to stick atop their rotation.

Halladay pitched a perfect game, a postseason no-hitter and collected a Cy Young Award in his first season in Philadelphia. Hamels is on the short list of starters Kansas City’s Ned Yost will choose from to start the All-Star Game (in Hamels hometown) in two weeks at Petco Park; he ranks in the top five in the American League in ERA, innings, winning percentage, WAR, and ERA+.

Hamels has been as close to automatic since his arrival to the Rangers. They’ve won 22 of the 28 starts he’s made with the team including 10 straight to finish off the 2016 season by overtaking the Houston Astros for the A.L. West crown, four more in a row to begin the 2016 season, and currently five straight as the Rangers became the big league’s first team to reach 50 wins this year.

Hamels’s current manager, Jeff Banister, and both teammates old and new talked at length about the pitcher’s impact on the Rangers before he shut out the Yankees over seven innings in the Bronx on Tuesday night.

After the game, Hamels was asked about that impact, the trade, and the new energy it has brought to a career that began 14 years ago this month, when the Phillies selected him with the 17th overall pick in the 2002 draft.

On how remarkably well things have turned out for him, leaving a Phillies team careening toward a 99-loss season for a Rangers team that has the best record in the American League since the trade:

“It was good timing, for everything, the way it worked out with this team, just coming on. Every guy here has just been unreal. It’s probably been the most positive team I’ve been around. Because you might have the superstars, but not necessarily having the superstars in their primes. So I think when I came up, I was around the guys that are superstars in their primes. They were positive because they were just superstars.

“Here, just gamers. A lot of young guys that are learning how to play. The older guys just bust their ass, teach. It’s been a really cool experience to see. No guy is ever in a bad mood. And that’s kind of rare to see. And if you even ever sense it, it gets flipped like that quick. Guys see it, acknowledge it, and bring it back. That’s the way the clubhouse has been, so positive.”

On the fact that the Rangers were four games under .500 and eight games back in the A.L. West at the time of the trade:

“From the moment I walked in, it was just ‘Game on.’ Guys were got all giddy and excited. It was pretty cool to see. Obviously, the rest is history because we’ve been playing really well. It’s been good.”

On the ability to get comfortable in a new environment in 2016:

“When you get traded, the last two months of the season is a whirlwind. You most likely are not living in your own house. You are kind of out of your suitcase the whole time. This season has been good in knowing what to expect and getting used to my surroundings."

On whether the trade has re-energized him:

“That’s what it does. The guys that I did talk to [Jamie Moyer, Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, and Matt Stairs among them] when they experienced the same things, when they got traded, they were nothing but positive (about it). That’s what they said. ‘You are going to have a lot of fun. You can recreate your career again in a sense.’

"At least I get to go in with more of a sense and knowledge of the game. And now, you are looked at a little bit higher. As opposed to ‘Don’t talk to me, you’re a rookie’ type of feeling when you are called up initially. Now, guys look at you in a leadership, experience-type role. The timing is everything and that was the perfect time I could have in my career to have this.”

On whether he ever finds himself tempted to peek at the numbers of Jerad Eickhoff, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams, and Jake Thompson, the key pieces the Phillies received back from the Rangers in last July’s trade:

“I’ve seen some of the pitchers (stats). I’m playing with a lot of their best friends (now) and they are happy for them because they are getting a chance to be in the big leagues. I think they understand that it may not have happened as soon on this team, so it’s fun to see. I obviously don’t get to see how the position players (are doing). They’ll be (in the big leagues) eventually. (The guys here) said that they got some good position players, some workers and it will work really well in that clubhouse. Especially with (Phillies manager) Pete (Mackanin), he’s one of the best. Gosh, that timing of that group with Pete is outstanding with how they are going to build.”

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