TO BEGIN WITH, John Goral isn't much of a Phillies fan. Not much of a baseball fan, really.
His wife, Gina, she's another story. She's a baseball nut . . . well, a newbie nut, one of masses who converted when the Phillies sprouted charisma during their 2007 run to the playoffs. She happened to take a shine to that slim Cole Hamels kid, the self-assured ace with the dreamy eyes. She even bought a Hamels jersey.
Really, though, they're a football couple. Their Bensalem basement testifies their allegiances: His Steelers banner hangs on one wall, its Roman numerals signifying the Super Bowls won by that team. An empty space on a nearby wall awaits her Eagles Super Bowl banner.
But the Phillies? Well, they figure, it's nice to have a summertime diversion.
Matter of fact, when John Goral saw those corny Phillies World Series badges tacked on the fenders of this silver Camaro SS at Thomas Chevrolet in Media, his first stipulation was, the guys in the back had to take that mess off.
This was his midlife-crisis car, and it had to be perfect.
Now, their nest empty of three children, the Gorals can splurge a bit. He is a truck mechanic at Penske Truck Rental in the Northeast. He always has driven pickup trucks.
Like a lot of responsible dads, he'd visit the car shows, and he'd dream. Now, at 49, he wanted his dream to come true. He wanted one of those retro-new 2010 Camaros, one like the "Bumblebee" Transformer in the movie.
But not with the Phillies stuff on it. Take it off, he said.
He was told that he might want to rethink that request.
See, this wasn't any old Camaro with corny Phillies emblems. This was Cole Hamels'. Or Heidi Hamels'.
Chevrolet gave Cole Hamels a 2010 Camaro as part of the prize for being the World Series MVP. The one on the field wasn't the one for Hamels. It was just a model. He got to order his, whatever he wanted.
Ever the romantic, Hamels ordered the testosterone-pumper for his wife, Heidi. Really, what else would the hottest "Survivor" in history want from her Hollywood hubby? And, being a daughter of the Ozarks, well, it had to be a stick shift, right?
"I grew up in the country," she says. "Everybody had a standard. My parents didn't allow me to learn to drive an automatic."
And what girl loves to double-clutch 426 horsepower with boot-crunchin' twang blaring on the radio? Little Heidi Hamels does, cowboy.
So, no wimpy automatics, please. Cole ordered her the stick.
But bailout companies sometimes get things wrong. When the car showed up in May, sure enough, no clutch.
No thanks, Heidi said. I want the stick.
"I agreed," says Cole, who can't drive a stick shift. He putters around in a Jeep, and has always shied away from muscle cars, regardless of their transmissions: "They scare me."
He likes their looks, though.
"Ever since I saw the 'Transformer' movies, I've wanted one of those cars," Hamels says. "Not necessarily to drive. Just to have one."
So, stick or not, Hamels wasn't going to be behind the wheel. Why not give his wife what she wanted?
"What's the sense of having a sports car like this and having it automatic?" he asks.
Not everyone thinks that way. Not John Goral.
Goral saw the shimmering beast online. He went, on Memorial Day, to see it. He loved it. He had driven one at another dealer's lot; at Thomas, the sales staff would only let him sit in it, in the showroom. Why?
It was extra-special.
He swears he would have bought it anyway. To get it at all, he had to hurry; two other buyers were interested.
He needed his wife, who was beginning a routine, 3-hour hair appointment (yikes). She hadn't been in Salon Pink for more than a few minutes when he called and told her to get to the dealer's lot, and fast; they had to qualify for a loan, or the car would be gone.
"Don't even dry it!" she told Lisa Lynd, her chatty coiffeuse.
Gina Goral got to the lot by 7 p.m. The car was theirs by 9.
A $35,000 vehicle, pimped to the max - Bluetooth, satellite radio, customized console lighting - there was no big markup, Goral says.
John Goral drives it. Everywhere. He traded in the truck.
He gets lots of looks.
The first day he took it to work, a Philadelphia cop followed him into the lot.
Great, he thought. I probably was speeding and didn't realize it.
The cop walked up. "Nice car. Um . . . Can I take it for a spin?"
"No way, man," Goral said. "I just got it."
He plans on keeping it.
He entered it in a car show in Cherry Hill, where he was offered $50,000 for it.
"Not for sale," he said.
He babies it. He ordered a tailored cover, which he uses . . . inside his garage.
"I love this car," he says.
He loves its history, too. Now he does, anyway.
The Phillies emblems are just a couple of inches in diameter, and there's a small Phillies sticker on the trunk, but this isn't NASCAR decoration. Most people who gawk at the car are drawn by the 1968 styling. Only when they get up close do they realize it is what it is.
What it is, is coincidental. One look around his modest home, one look at the big, pleasant lug, and it's plain that he's not a look-at-me kind of guy.
Well, not much of one, anyway. He does plan on adding a "Hamels - 35" decal in the rear window.
Cole and Heidi, as earthy and as accommodating of commoners as any celebrity couple, get a kick out of that. They get a charge out of their Camaro bringing such joy to the likes of the Gorals.
"I think that's a pretty cool deal," Cole says.
"It's a piece of history, that's for sure," Heidi says.
To that end, Goral hopes Cole Hamels will someday autograph it - in silver, on the black dashboard, or under the hood.
Maybe after the season, Hamels says: "That'll help the resale value, I guess."
What about his wife signing it, too? Not often you get ink from a World Series MVP and a Playboy model on the same dashboard.
"Ah, I'd just devalue it," Heidi Hamels says.
Hers arrived last month, invaluable, perfect . . . and useless, for now. She's very pregnant with their first child, who is due in a matter of days.
"I can't drive a stick right now, in my condition," she says.
Gina Goral, the big Phillies fan, seldom drives the first one they sent Hamels, either. "I'm afraid I'll wreck it," she says. She generally stays in her little Ford Escape.
But she did take it to the salon for the girls to see. There were impressed. They were not alone.
Once, she said, a woman asked her, "Are you Heidi Hamels?"
Well-preserved and very well-coiffed, Gina, 46, blushes at the memory.
She isn't Heidi Hamels.