The Tao of Cole: Is Hamels key to Cubs discovering the lost secret of ‘urgency’?
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MESA, Ariz. — It’s one thing for the Cubs to sermonize and pontificate about some rediscovered sense of urgency as they have for nearly two weeks of spring training.
It’s another for a bunch of 20-somethings who already wear the most coveted ring in major-league history to turn the nice theory into something more than a bumper-sticker slogan or T-shirt platitude.
Maybe that’s where they should have added a big-name veteran to the roster?
Maybe that’s where they did.
“Obviously, a lot of them won early in their careers,” said Cole Hamels, the four-time All-Star starter acquired in a July trade who was retained when the Cubs exercised his $20 million contract option. “I was lucky enough to be able to do that, too. So I think we relate a lot better.”
Hamels, a first-round draft pick and touted prospect through the minors, reached the playoffs in his second through sixth season, winning a championship with the Phillies in his third season.
Hamels and the Phillies reached the World Series the next year, too. He hasn’t been back, though, and only after being traded to the Rangers and then the Cubs did he experience the postseason again.
“Knowing the type of guys that they are — they have a lot of top picks that have really done well, getting through the system,” he said. “That’s not an easy task because there’s a lot of focus when you’re that top pick, especially in a big city, a big market.
“They’ve been able to navigate it very well. So I admire what they’ve been able to accomplish so far.”
Cubs management expects more after Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora all played key roles in navigating three rounds in October (and November) to win it all in 2016.
Other than Rizzo, those core players have known nothing in their major-league careers but being in the playoffs. They also have known a World Series “hangover” and second-half hitting woes that left them short of the multiple championships once envisioned for them, at least so far.
And a winter of budget restraints that left the front office without the ability to add a hitter has left some of the fan base bitter.
That’s where Hamels believes he comes in.
The left-hander had an almost identical career arc to many in the Cubs’ core. But he’s 35 now, with 2,553 innings of wisdom and nearly a decade of increasing appreciation for the championship heights he achieved so early in his career.
“The craziest part about when you win young is that I don’t think you understand what you just accomplished,” he said. “Yeah, it’s all great, and you’ve won ever since you were probably in Little League and high school and college and then you win in the big leagues. So it’s just kind of a normal thing.
“When you don’t win for a while, then I think you try to grasp the importance of what it really meant and how to actually go about trying to do it again. So I think that was what was probably a good thing about how the season ended [last year].”
The urgency thing isn’t about working harder or focusing more — even management says that wasn’t the problem last year.
But fighting complacency after winning big or feeling entitled to an annual playoff berth?
“It was really a gut punch and kind of a check to a lot of guys in realizing how difficult this game can be,” Hamels said of losing the division title to the Brewers and the wild-card game to the Rockies on back-to-back days at Wrigley Field.
“It’s not taking things for granted and at the end of the day doing everything you possibly can to get everything out of yourself and out of your teammates to go out and win.”