CINCINNATI — Billy Hamilton walked into the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse Wednesday afternoon with a smile on his face, hope in his heart and a head stuffed with outside support.
Hamilton batted four times on Opening Day Monday and struck out four times against St. Louis right hander Adam Wainwright, who took special care in keeping Hamilton off the bases.
"That’s not the first time I struck out four times in a game and it certainly won’t be the last time," Hamilton said.
It was the timing that made it so pointed — Opening Day, a full Great American Ball Park, fans expecting mammoth things from baseball’s fastest runner, a guy expected to fill and overfill the hole left when last year’s leadoff hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, skipped town through free agency.
Hamilton had no time to fret, even if he wanted to worry about the mess he left after the game. His cell phone never quit chirping — former players calling to tell them about awful Opening Days they endured. He heard from Eric Davis, Ken Griffey Sr., Delino DeShields.
"Almost all my teammates talked to me and all of them told me about their bad days," Hamilton said. "Eric Davis, Ken Griffey Sr. and Delino DeShields all called me to tell me their Opening Day memories. They told me if you don’t have Opening Day butterflies, especially your first Opening Day, then you aren’t human.
"And my teammates, like Ramon Santiago, told me about how guys he played with struck out eight or nine times in their first two or three games. It has calmed me down and helped me out as a younger player that those older guys took the time to do that. I’m calmed today, not down on myself and today is a new day."
It wasn’t as if it was the 23-year-old Hamilton’s first day in a big league uniform. He was called up from the minors last September and was dazzling — .368 average, .429 on-base average, 13 stolen bases in 14 tries in only 19 at-bats over 13 games.
Hamilton struck out only four times in the entire month of September last year and matched it in one day Monday.
"I don’t let stuff like that bother me because it is baseball and baseball is a tough game," he said. "You are going to have bad days as much as good days, probably more bad ones than good ones in this game.
"It just happened to have happened on Opening Day and I was anxious, excited, had butterflies and not to mention that Wainwright is one of the greatest pitchers out there right now. He did his job, so I salute to him."
And he has the ultimate support from manager Bryan Price.
"He knows he doesn’t need to look over his shoulder," said Price. "He is our center fielder and we aren’t going to evaluate him in one game or even in two weeks. There are a million stories which you can tell that relates to Billy."
Price quickly brought up the name on one of baseball’s all-time greats, bringing up the fact that Willie Mays was 1 for 26 when he made his 1951 major-league debut with the New York Giants, "And he asked manager Leo Durocher to send him back to the minors and Durocher said, ‘That will never happen.’" And how did that work out? Mays is in the Hall of Fame.
Price didn’t bring up one of the other 999,998 stories, that of Peter Edward Rose. He began his career in 1963 by going 3 for 23. And how did that work out? Rose, the all-time leader in hits with 4,256, should be in the Hall of Fame.
"Hamilton is not the first guy to struggle on Opening Day, especially with the pitcher he faced," said Price. "He had a great spring training and did a great job for us in September. We’re very confident he is ready to be here and thrive. I anticipate that he will electrify us in the coming games."