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Hamels speaks with soldier upon return from tour

Phillies fan Sgt. Andreacchio has FaceTime conversation with grateful pitcher

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels grew up in San Diego, a city with a large military presence. His grandfather served in World War II and he has two cousins who are in the armed services.

"I think if I hadn't played baseball, I definitely wouldn't have minded representing my country," Hamels said Friday morning after taking part in a surprise FaceTime conversation with Sgt. Joey Andreacchio, who recently returned to his home in Langhorne, Pa., after his latest tour in Afghanistan.

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Another reason Hamels was a perfect representative for the Phillies: One of Andreacchio's favorite memories is the 2008 World Series; Hamels was the Most Valuable Player when the Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays.

The surprise got even bigger when first baseman Ryan Howard, on his way to the bus that took players to Friday's Grapefruit League game in Bradenton, Fla., stopped by and joined in the conversation.

The conversation lasted about five minutes, and the two arranged to meet when Andreacchio visits Clearwater next week.

"I know a lot of my teammates, everyone around that I know, are really thankful for what you're able to do. It's truly impressive. I definitely support you guys more than you could possibly know, and I know a lot of my teammates feel the same way. We're lucky to have you on our side and I think I'm lucky to be on your side," Hamels told Andreacchio.

Andreacchio is a Phillies Sunday season ticket holder who has also served in Iraq. He's won several commendations, including, most recently, the Army Commendation Medal.

Former Phillies pitcher Tommy Greene, Liberty USO president Joe Brooks, Phillies director of sales Derek Schuster and the Phillies Ballgirls knocked on his door Friday morning to personally deliver the tickets and other surprises. In addition, the Phillie Phanatic's mother, Phoebe, showed up in a military vehicle to take him on a victory lap of his neighborhood.

"[The military] is something that we value. It's something our family has always preached, how important it is to be an American," Hamels said. "Knowing that freedom isn't free and that there are people who sacrifice and put themselves on the line so I can play a game. Who allowed me to be a kid and grow up and have the safety of what America really represents.

"I want them to let them know that there are people who support them, because their lifestyle is tougher than anything I could ever imagine. People might glamorize the baseball lifestyle or think it might be tough at times. But it's nowhere close to what they and their families have to sacrifice.

"That's something that was always preached to me and followed in my family and I'll be telling my kids the same thing, to show their appreciation to the soldiers and the veterans."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for

Philadelphia Phillies, Cole Hamels