CLEARWATER, Fla. - If Cole Hamels really believes everything he said Monday - and there is no reason to think otherwise - then the youngest of the Phillies' three aces should have a contract extension in place by opening day in Pittsburgh.

In his first public comments heading into his free-agent season, the Phillies' only homegrown pitching ace said all the right things after his team's second workout at Bright House Field. He also said something more and, in the process, provided another pleasant reminder of how different things have become for this team in the 21st century.

"I was fortunate enough to be drafted into an organization that is trying to win and obviously has won," Hamels said. "Every day, every year, we seem to get some top players. So that kind of shows the value and the direction the team wants to go. I've just been very fortunate to be a part of it. It's a great organization to play for and I'd love to be part of it."

Compare that to what we used to hear from Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen in the bottom of the 20th and the top of the 21st century - much of it true, by the way - and the Phillies already have conquered one of the major hurdles to retaining the most precious free agents.

This is not a place the best baseball players in the world leave. This is where they want to come and stay.

Unlike Schilling, who came of age in the Phillies' organization, and Rolen, who was drafted by the team, Hamels has seen little unpleasantness during his tenure. Schilling and Rolen each experienced one winning season during lengthy stays in Philadelphia.

Hamels, 28, has never been on a losing team. He won a World Series in 2008 and was the MVP. He went to another the following year, but that season was the only truly difficult one for him as he struggled on the mound.

Looking back, Hamels even considers that experience more of a learning tool than a miserable memory.

"It was [frustrating], but at the same time it was a blessing in disguise because it really made me discover who I was and how I can prove people wrong," he said. "It showed me how to work even harder to get better. That was the best stepping-stone I could ever have in my career."

You hear all the time in sports that it's all about the money, and in many cases that's true. But it's not always just about the money. If it were, you'd have to think that Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay would be playing for the Yankees.

The fact that those two chose Philadelphia over New York certainly did not go unnoticed by Hamels. He also has watched the team retain homegrown stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins.

"Ever since I've been here, they've been able to do a really good job of keeping the guys that they draft - especially the guys that they like," Hamels said. "I just hope I'm one of those guys that they like."

He knows they like him and, when the time comes, that will help. Darren Daulton once said that he grew up in Arkansas City, Kan., but he became a man in Philadelphia. Hamels grew up in San Diego, but he also became a man in Philadelphia. It's true he still has family on the West Coast, but his immediate family - his wife and two children - are living in Philadelphia.

"I've been on the East Coast and I've enjoyed it," he said. "Ultimately, the East Coast has some of the best sports markets in the world, and it's fun to go to some of those big cities and play. I think Philadelphia has become that big city where people want to come and play.

"I've actually got to see the process of going from a team that has just kind of been on the cusp to finally winning and still trying to win. That's where I want to be, where we're winning and wanting to win for a long time."

It would be foolish, of course, to think that money will not play a part in Hamels' final decision, but it should be helpful that an easy-to-read blueprint sits right in front of the pitcher and the Phillies.

Lee, at 32, received a five-year, $120 million contract with a sixth-year option. He could have gotten more from the Yankees, but he insisted his heart was in Philadelphia. If you listened to Hamels on Monday and you believed everything he said, then his heart is also with this team and this town.

Hamels doesn't have a Cy Young Award, and Lee does. But Hamels will be three years younger than Lee was when he hit the free-agent market. If you have watched Hamels the last two seasons, it's impossible not to see a pitcher arriving at the peak of his career.

Add all the factors together and it's difficult to imagine Cole Hamels pitching anywhere other than Philadelphia for the foreseeable future.