By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – 2012 was expected to be a busy offseason for the Phillies. As it turns out, the biggest and most important contract the team signed this year happened in July when Cole Hamels signed a six-year, $144 million extension.

Hamels started the Phillies home opener in 2012, but his performance over the last two seasons, new deal, and the fact that he’s home-grown may mean he’ll get the ball on opening day in Atlanta on April 1st.

“It’s the ultimate honor, it really is,” Hamels said about the prospect of being the Phillies’ opening day starter. Hamels was interviewed by Angelo Cataldi and The WIP Morning Show on Wednesday.  “But at the same time, with having one of the greatest pitchers to ever pitch, you know in Roy Halladay, and then having Cliff Lee who is absolutely outstanding. These guys have got all the accolades and they go out there every day and try to win, and so I’m just trying to learn from the best. I think that’s ultimately what it is. I think I am fortunate enough that I am younger than them, so I have a lot longer to learn and to grow. I think all three of us really feel the same way. We really love being able to pitch with each other, and we don’t mind whoever gets that ball for that sort of situation because we all believe in each other.”

MLB teams have spent money at a record pace this offseason, highlighted by the $158 million deal the Dodgers gave Zack Greinke. All that money means that Hamels probably could have gotten more on the open market than he got from the Phillies.

“I am extremely happy because it is. It’s always been a goal [to stay with one team]. I grew up with Tony Gwynn and watching him play with for a team his whole career, so I always really wanted to do that and kind of create a legacy for a city that actually has been absolutely wonderful to play for,” Hamels said. “I think that’s why guys want to come to Philly. It’s a great place to play. Even though it doesn’t seem like it’s this pitcher friendly ball park, it really is. It’s a great place because pitchers, I think, are now realizing this is the place that we have an opportunity to win championships, and it challenges you. I think that’s where you want to be. You want to be where the fans show up and really go absolutely crazy, every single day for 162 games. That’s the reason why we play the game of baseball. It’s fun to play it, the selfish-side, of trying to go out and beat other players, but it really is being able to play in front of fans that really appreciate what you do. That’s being a professional athlete.”

Hamels was once a player who was criticized by fans for his demeanor, and work ethic. That’s not the case anymore, and Hamels said that the fans are responsible for that. “These fans actually pay attention. They care. This is pretty cool. I can’t wait to get out there in five more days and show them something else!’ [after he pitches poorly]. I think that’s kind of when I really discovered how much it means to play the game of baseball in front of fans that really do care.”

The Phillies were ravaged by injuries last season, losing Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Cliff Lee for stretches. Hamels thinks that could be the difference between 2012 and 2013.

“I think everybody just staying healthy [is the key to Phillies success]. I think that was kind of the big issue. Last year we didn’t have guys come in healthy, and you put a lot more on guys shoulders that aren’t used to dealing with that sort of pressure, and we just didn’t know how to handle it because guys were trying to do more, trying to pick up the left out people. I think with having guys healthy, working out hard this off-season, I think we have a lot of extra aggression that we weren’t able to get out in October. So, I think it’s going to add up for the start of this season,” Hamels said.

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