PHILADELPHIA -- As a San Diego native, Cole Hamels said he remembers how former Padres closer Trevor Hoffman used to consistently invite troops to games.
Drawing some inspiration from one of baseball's greatest relievers, Hamels has done more than his fair share of giving back to Americans who have served during his time in the Major Leagues. The most recent example came Saturday, when the left-handed starting pitcher had 33 veterans join him on the field at Citizens Bank Park before the Phillies' afternoon contest against the Reds.
"They're the people that are grinding, 24/7, and they don't really get the sort of recognition to be able to do what they do," Hamels said. "And the same for the families -- the families have to be without significant others, loved ones, for months, even years at a time."
Hamels' program, "Hamels Heroes," is a charity endeavor the three-time All-Star created with his wife, Heidi, to show appreciation for military members. On Saturday, Hamels' foundation partnered with the Philadelphia VA Medical Center to give many newly returning veterans what some called a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Hamels signed autographs and posed for pictures with servicemen and servicewomen, who got to watch the Phillies' batting practice from behind home plate.
Ryan Fogarty, an Air Force veteran who returned home from service to Voorhees, N.J., last October, was one of the veterans who had the opportunity to meet Hamels. Fogarty noted he is a longtime Phillies fan, and though he said he had already attended three games this season, he described Saturday's experience as one of the best of his life.
"Anyone who supports this country, supports the troops, definitely gets an A+ in my book," Fogarty said. "And for [Hamels] to take the time to do something like this, I love it."
In addition to meeting Hamels, the veterans were given camouflage "Hamels Heroes" T-shirts and were allowed to bring family and friends with them to the game.
"There's no depth to what you feel, it always feels great to be recognized," said Kat Parent, who previously served in the Marine Corps and now is part of the Army Reserve. "This is my first visit here, and it couldn't have gone better."
Hamels noted that even if he was not a professional baseball player, he would still give back to the troops in some capacity and tries to reach out to military members wherever he is.
Now in his eighth season in the Majors, Hamels has hosted veterans at Citizens Bank Park in the past, and he said it's something special to him in part because he has family members who have served in the military.
"With the family members that I have that were in the military, this is something that I enjoy," he said. "It makes you discuss and understand that there is a deeper meaning to being an American. Some people don't really recognize it, but it's kind of the way I was brought up."
Hamels will take the mound again Monday, when the Phillies open a three-game set in Miami. And though he will not play Saturday, he certainly made some fans.
"Now he's not just the guy you see on TV," said Joshua Caravajal, who returned home from Air Force service in January. "He's the guy who had us on the field, signed an autograph, took pictures. It's awesome."
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.