Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cole's Woes

Cole’s Woes

“…count all the fingers and the toes; now I suppose you hope the little black boy grows…” I can’t help but think of that line & hook from Pete Rock & Cl Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y)", as I convey these thoughts…

Folks, here's what's going on w/ Cole Hamels, and I'm fairly sure he's going to be battling this throughout the World Series.

He's a brand new, first-time dad. He's tired. He's tired physically; he's tired mentally. You can see it on his face, you can see it in his pitching. You can see it in his interactions with Carlos Ruiz. And It couldn't have been more obvious than when, during last night’s game, with the Phillies just outs away from their second consecutive World Series appearance, the camera cut to him in the dugout, a headshot, and he wasn't really there. His face was a 1,000-yard stare, looking well past the action on the field. He was somewhere else.

You know where he was? Home. Trying to stay afloat in the ocean of chaos and love that a newborn baby brings (son Caleb was born Oct. 9th, not even two weeks ago). He was back at home, wrestling with exhaustion, communicating with his wife, Heidi, perhaps trying to listen to her fun anecdotes about what he's been missing, her frustrations and difficulties with “normal,” new-baby stuff, and perhaps even trying to get along with his mom-in-law, for all I know (if she's there, lending a hand)!

I don't know much about their new baby. I don't know if there is anything abnormal, or complex going on (which can make things even tougher). But even the “usual,” "normal," and "baby-and-mom-are-fine" situation, is extremely difficult, the first few weeks, for everyone involved. There is a lot to stay on top of, lose sleep over, and just plain manage. Including emotions. Heavy ones.

I've been around the world, was a Special Forces Marine (and Desert Storm Vet), and experienced a lot of hardcore, crazy things and difficult times in my life. And you know, when it came to the days and weeks immediately following the birth of my first child, it was all I could do to survive – seriously! And our baby was perfect, by the way! It is an extremely difficult time. Exasperating, and every once and a while, things truly seem futile.

Parents know what I'm talking about. Kid-less folks, er…not so much. I won’t begin to get into everything that goes on the first few weeks a first-born is brought into the world, for those who don't have children, but suffice it to say: you are toast. Burnt toast. Mentally, physically. There are times, when you're just like, "holy &^%#, how the hell am I going to make it?!" “Is THIS what this is?!” When you really do feel, “somehow, I have to survive.”

Cole is wearing these precise emotions on his face. It was crystal clear last night when the camera showed him in the dugout. He was more alert in his post-game interviews, and he had to be: he knew the cameras were on him, and he “snapped to it” with relative ease. But I could still see it gurgling underneath.

If this were his second child, it would be easier on him. You learn tons. You learn how to deal. You’ve learned that you can actually survive it all. Your spouse learns these things as well, and if this were their second child, both of them would be more well equipped to handle everything; the interaction and communications between new parents aren't as daunting; caring for baby is less difficult (though still hard). The global task is a bit easier. But, alas, that's not the case here.

In case you’re wondering, here are Cole’s stats from his last three starts (all post-season):

Game #2, Colorado Series (Phillies lost), when his wife went into labor either just before he took the mound, or once the game had started (he was told as much, after being pulled and headed straight for the hospital):

5 innings pitched, gave up 7 hits (1 homer), 4 runs, 5 strikeouts, with a 7.2 era.

Game #1, Dodgers Series (Phillies won, Cole got the win):

5.1 innings pitched, gave up 8 hits (2 homers), 4 runs, 4 strikeouts, with an era of 7.

Game # 5, Dodgers Series (Phillies clinch World Series Birth):

4.1 innings pitched, gave up 5 hits (3 homers), 3 runs, 3 strikeouts, with an era of 6.75.

Here are his post-season stats combined:

3 starts, 14.2 innings pitched, 6.75 ERA, 12 strikeouts, 20 hits (6 homers), and 41 total bases given up.

Good “enough?” Nope. Not with an impending World Series featuring the Yankees looming.

Sure, these three recent outings and set of stats point to Hamel’s struggles right now, but they aren’t necessary to deduce why his on-field performance is suffering: He’s a first-time dad, and husband of a first time mom. It’s a lot to deal with. Seriously. Simultaneously he’s dealing with the big-time, front-and-center pressures, of trying to steer his baseball team through two post-season series, and on-deck, the minefield of one of the best Yankees teams in recent memory, and a second consecutive World Series title.

You can just see it in him. He’s detached. He hasn’t been in the moment. He hasn’t had his head in the game. And it’s quite understandable, why. The implications, moving forward, are fairly big. And the question is this: can he somehow find a way to leave his awesome new family behind, when he heads to the ballpark?

He’s got a few days off to figure it out. Because in less than a week, one day before Caleb’s three-week birthday, he’ll be taking the mound (presumably) to start game #2 at Yankees Stadium in the World Series.

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