A LIGHT DRIZZLE and clouds covered Citizens Bank Park yesterday afternoon, much the same way Cole Hamels' future with the organization lies in a murky gray area. An iconic playoff hero of years past, Hamels dominated the rumor mill and Twitter feeds all offseason as a trade chip, as the Phillies have moved further from those deep October runs into full-on rebuilding mode.
Hamels yesterday discussed where he saw himself pitching on Opening Day during the winter months when talks swirled of him moving to Boston, Chicago, San Diego or another city.
"I had a pretty good idea I'd be in this ballpark," Hamels said in a news conference at CBP before the Phils' first on-deck exhibition game against the Pirates.
Considering that the Phils open up their season for real on Monday against the Red Sox, a team with hopes of contention, a shaky starting rotation and a farm system deep enough to make a deal for a pitcher of Hamels' caliber, the vagueness and possible double meaning of that statement wasn't lost on those in attendance.
Asked whether his idea had him wearing Phillies pinstripes or donning a gray Boston road jersey, Hamels again answered diplomatically.
"I had a pretty good idea I'd be in this ballpark, how about that?" he reiterated with a grin.
The idea that Hamels' days as a Phillie are numbered aren't because of a lack of success. He posted a career-best 2.46 ERA, ninth in the majors, while striking out 8.7 batters per nine innings in 2014. It's the rest of the squad that's aged and seen its skills erode much quicker than those of the San Diego native.
"It's different, but every year is different," Hamels said, regarding how his cast of teammates has changed over the last few seasons. Gone are the days of the Four Aces, when fans packing CBP to capacity knew they were in for a special summer night if Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt or Hamels was taking the mound.
"We had bits and pieces to lead up to it, but every year is going to be different," Hamels continued. "Every year in spring training when we got ready for a season and then into the postseason, certain guys step up and certain injuries happen."
Pitchers David Buchanan and Jerome Williams certainly aren't Halladay and Lee. And few pitchers this century can say they match the artistry those two aces created in throwing a baseball, but Hamels doesn't think he needs to prove anything and go beyond his typical excellence to carry the rest of the rotation.
"As much as I can do, I want to be able to go out and do it," he said. "And I enjoy the moments of doing it. I think the postseason teaches a lot about trying to do too much.
"It's something where [if] you really focus and pinpoint small little goals, you're able to get through it without getting too emotionally hyped-up for certain situations and trying to carry your team on your back. It's just going out there and fulfilling your obligation, and that's kind of what I've been trying to do, no matter what the circumstances."
With some members of the 2015 rotation possibly being just stopgap options for a season or two, Hamels is aware of the patience needed for a rebuild to go well, mentioning the strength of organization's starting pitching talent in the minor leagues.
"To be able to see that they [the Phillies] have the starters in Double A and they will become the future of the organization, you hope for all five of them to be able to have successful careers," Hamels said.
Chief among those is Aaron Nola, whom the the Phils selected with the seventh overall pick in last June's draft. The righthander out of LSU could be pitching in the same rotation as Hamels as soon as this summer, assuming Hamels is still in Philly, of course.
The thought of Hamels leaving the Phillies won't subside anytime soon, as speculation that the lefty will move on from the only major league team he's ever known will only intensify as the season draws closer until July's trade deadline. Until then, all Hamels can do is what all of baseball knows he's good at: pitching.
"It is what it is. I don't get to control it as much as people actually think. It's not my decision," Hamels said about the possibility of his being dealt. "I've been fortunate enough to be able to go out there and play baseball and do it for as long as I can, and that's all I can hope for. Whoever really wants me to pitch and go out and help the team win, that's all I can do."