He said it was not only the competition and learning how to perfect his craft over the course of a long baseball season, but also, "how to deal with the tremendous fan base they have and how to interact and be a part of your community, too."
As much as Hamels might have liked his time with the BlueClaws, the lefthander made sure he was not there very long. He made only 13 starts in 2003 before being called up to high Class A Clearwater, going 6-1 with a 0.84 ERA. He is only the second player in club history, along with Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, to have his number displayed beyond the centerfield wall.
"It's a special moment," Hamels said. "This is where my career started. It has been a great ride. These are the memories I will remember more than some of the memories in the major leagues, because this is the start to my journey in playing baseball."
His journey has taken him on highs and lows with the Phillies. One of the lows is this season, with the team in last place in the NL East. Despite being a season-low 11 games below .500, the ninth-year Phillie thinks they have what it takes to turn it around.
"Ever since I've been here, we have always won," Hamels said. "Last year was kind of the first struggles that we had to go through. We have a lot of great guys, great talent. It is just a matter of everybody putting it all together at the same time. That has been the test. Guys have been playing well, but not as a team and not at the same time."
Even though a steady rain poured down, Hamels accepted his gifts from the BlueClaws with a smile. One of the gifts was a customized five-pound Hershey chocolate bar. He, and Phillies fans, would agree, that turning the season around sometime soon would be "sweet."
On Twitter: @AndrewJAlbert01