ARLINGTON, Texas - Two weeks ago, before Cole Hamels severely injured an abdominal muscle, the schedule presented a chance for another reunion here in the heart of Texas. Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz have enjoyed their standing ovations at Citizens Bank Park. This would have been different, but nonetheless compelling.
"It would have been something fun," a bearded Hamels said Tuesday inside the Texas Rangers clubhouse. "But I think it probably would've been a little more entertaining if it was back in Philly. That would've probably had a little more significance and more of a memory."
It's impossible to know when the Phillies could see Hamels again. The interleague schedule dictates that the Phillies and Rangers will not play again until 2020. Hamels will be 36 then. The lefthander might be somewhere else; he could become a free agent after the 2018 season.
The Phillies could have visions of contention by then. Hamels still owns a house in Delaware County.
The idea has crossed Hamels' mind. He now sees Ruiz more often - they are divisional foes - and the two have discussed what it would be like, hypothetically, to return to Philadelphia.
"I never leave the door closed," Hamels said. "It's a special place and will continue to be a special place. There's always those opportunities."
For now, Hamels is a disabled Ranger. He has missed two weeks with the injury, and he could be sidelined for another six weeks. It will be the longest absence of his professional career. He had made at least 30 starts in nine consecutive seasons, a streak that will end.
There are contractual ramifications, too. Had Hamels pitched 400 innings from 2017 to 2018, his 2019 option would have been guaranteed at $24 million. Instead, Texas will have a $20 million team option on Hamels' services for 2019. He had a 3.03 ERA in his first five starts this season.
"I'm thankful and happy I'm in this organization and we were able to work out the trade to go to the team I wanted to most," Hamels said of the Rangers. "I've had incredible experiences here. An opportunity to win every year. That's been awesome. I know we're going to be able to do that for the next two years."
But Philadelphia is often on his mind. He still has friends and charitable work in the area. Every so often, someone will text him after watching a replay of his no-hitter at Wrigley Field in his final start with the Phillies. They'll call Hamels and talk about how they still think Odubel Herrera will drop the 27th out.
"So do I," Hamels said.
"I think," Hamels said, "he's gotten a lot better in the outfield from what I've seen."
So Hamels still follows from afar, even though the Phillies roster has just a handful of former teammates. He was excited to watch Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis, and Cameron Rupp, to see how they have adjusted and survived in the majors. Just one of the players traded for Hamels, Jerad Eickhoff, is on the 25-man roster. He started Tuesday night.
The expectation is for the Phillies to spend on prominent free agents in upcoming winters, a fact not lost on Hamels. Asked if he would advise a top player to consider Philadelphia, Hamels did not hesitate.
"It looks like Philadelphia will have the perfect timing in the next couple of years," Hamels said. "There's no better place to play in front of a sold-out crowd every single day. They really do love baseball. As much as I know it's a football and hockey town, baseball has a significant presence there. Especially when they're winning. They live and breathe it."
And, one day, Hamels will feel that love again - even if it's as a visitor.
"When we played there, we just saw the constant boos of former players," Hamels said. "We're like, 'Oh, that [stinks]. Don't want to come back here.' Then to see the turn, that's what is great about Philadelphia sports fans. If you make the right type of impact, you last forever. That really does mean something."