Long before she was Heidi Hamels, the aw-shucks, oh-my-gosh celebrity wife of Phillies 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels and cofounder of their charitable Hamels Foundation, she was Heidi Strobel, child poet, from tiny Buffalo, Mo., population 3,049.
And it's the inner poet that she is channeling these days. For a new career.
"My great-grandma Zora Sullivan was blind and she was a poet and she wrote eight poetry books," Hamels, 38, said at her Newtown Square home, grabbing a breather between a child's birthday party and boarding a plane for two action-packed days in Nashville.
"She passed down all her poetry books, and I learned how to make rhythm changes," Hamels said. "I can play piano and drums. I don't want to make it sound like I'm good. I'm not good. But I know how a beat should be carried. If you can carry a beat, you can make up a song. And I know if, lyrically, does it sound like something we all want to hear?"
Hamels, who reinvented herself from reality-show celeb known for 2003's Survivor: The Amazon to Hamels Foundation benefactor of education in impoverished Malawi, was explaining her newest incarnation: country-music songwriter.
"Somebody says something in conversation that intrigues you, and that's kind of how I start," she said. "I'm intrigued by people, how they cope, their love story. If you can write about those moments, people will say, 'Yeah, that's how I felt.' "
Hamels lives with the couple's four young children while her husband, who has pitched for the Texas Rangers since leaving the Phillies in 2015, oversees construction of their future Texas home. "I didn't want to keep moving our children to different schools, different friends," she said. "It's just too much for little kids. When the house is finished, we'll make one big move to Texas."
Hamels mined her small-town Missouri youth for "Ruined This Town," which she cowrote with country singer Lee Gantt for his debut single, recently released on iTunes, Spotify, and other digital music services.
"If you get broken up with or you break up with someone in a small town, it ruins the town for you," Hamels said. "You can't go anywhere in that small town without seeing that person or thinking about that person. You can't escape that person, so your way of life is all about them now. When we first put the song out, oh, my gosh, we got thousands of comments like, 'Thank you for writing this.' "
Hamels recently traveled to Nashville with Sara Spicer, a country singer from Ridley, to shoot the music video for "Jump," a song they cowrote about risk-taking for Spicer's debut EP, due out in February on Hamels' fledgling HH Entertainment label.
It's all happening as fast as Hamels' breathless excitement over it. "I work 60-hour workweeks," she said. "At the Hamels Foundation, you give back to the world, which is my mission in life. I wanted to delve into something else that would just be part of me, and not part of the world.
"We go down our path in life," Hamels said. "We got it all figured out. I'm fulfilled by my four children and my husband. But I'm a go-getter. I'm one of those people who is always moving, always trying to reinvent themselves, always trying to make the world better. I don't do very many things for myself. This is something just for me."
Hamels said her country-music songwriting career surprised her while she was searching for something new. "A friend said, 'You know, Heidi, you used to write all those poetry books.' I said, 'Oh, my gosh, that's the silliest thing I ever heard.' But it stuck with me. I thought, 'Let me at least just put pen to paper and try to write some songs.'
"I wrote a song and left it out on the kitchen counter. My son's piano teacher saw it and asked me, 'Is this a song?' I said: 'Yeah, Paul. It is. Don't judge me.' He said, 'This is really good.' And I'm like: 'Really? I just started writing three or four days ago.' "
The piano teacher is Paul Pierangeli, whose daughter Lauren is best friends with Spicer. So when Hamels asked him whether he knew any singers who could help her write country songs, he and Lauren connected her with Spicer. That was two years ago. Hamels and Spicer have been writing together ever since.
Hamels' future efforts include "Here's to Us," which she said "is about the end of a relationship after you gave it everything you could possibly give it," and "Thank You for Loving Me."