Cole Hamels talks about the Padres much as several longtime Padres fans I know talk about the Padres -- with frustration, sadness, even dismay.
A Padres fan himself, although he will be trying to defeat the Padres tonight, Hamels looks at what could be and what is and sees a big gap. The cold reality about San Diego's ballclub seems to bother him, even if it is the cash-flush Philadelphia Phillies who write his gigantic paychecks.
"This is a great city; the ballpark here is unbelievable," Hamels told this blog on Thursday from Petco Park. "I think if the organization wanted to compete, people would be here in a heartbeat -- fans and players."
Hamels knows that where amateur baseball is concerned, San Diego is as much of a juggernaut as New York is a juggernaut in major league baseball's world. A supple and long athlete with a whippy left arm and a rare feel for pitching, Hamels played for a top-flight baseball coach, Sam Blalock, at Rancho Bernardo High School. Blalock had turned Mt. Carmel High into a one of talent-rich California's better high school programs. He did the same at Rancho Bernardo, making it a must-see destination for major league scouts.
As a player, Hamels has known only postseason contention. Long-term rebuilding plans are a remote concept to the pitcher.
"I grew up, winning," he said. "I went to R.B. We won. And that's what I was taught at an early age."
He rooted for the Padres as a boy, and the Padres rewarded him for it by going to the 1998 World Series.
He cheered for Tony Gwynn, his favorite player of them all.
He marveled at Ken Caminiti's playmaking and Steve Finley's lithe power.
He applauded when San Diego citizens, euphoric over the team's pennant-winning season in '98, agreed to commit nearly $300 million toward a new ballpark.
Like many fans and major league players, Hamels doesn't care to get bogged down in baseball economics. And he might yawn if told the Padres have won games more often in Petco than in Jack Murphy Stadium.
Hamels was hoping for more.
"To see the Padres with such an unbelievable stadium, and to have it downtown, and to see what it's done to the city, and for them to not really want to put out a team that has to compete against the Dodgers, and the Giants, and Arizona -- that's tough," Hamels told me.
If you told Hamels that the Phillies have spoiled him, he wouldn't argue.
Philadelphia's baseball franchise is the Rancho Bernardo High of the National League.
Hamels has gone to the playoffs each of the last five years. He has pitched in two World Series.
If he becomes a free agent in November, he will evaluate suitors' commitment to winning.
"You play this game because you enjoy it, but you play to win," he said. "And ultimately how are you going to enjoy it more? You're going to enjoy it more by being on a competitive team that obviously wants to win. I was fortunate enough to be drafted by the Phillies, who want to
For the Padres and their fans, Hamels wants what the Phillies and their fans have enjoyed for the last several years.
If Hamels knows the two markeplaces occupy opposite ends of baseball's economic landscape, it's not a fact he overly indulges.
"Ultimately, it's up to the organization if they want to win," he said. "I don't think the fans necessarily can really affect any decision. If the team doesn't want to win, I don't want to sit for 162 games and know that we have no shot to compete."
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