GOODYEAR, Ariz. — There can be plenty of times during spring training when all the games seem to run together. And then there are the special moments like Monday.
During Monday’s Cactus League game against the Reds at Goodyear Stadium, the Indians gave Nick Hamilton his first opportunity to experience a game at a major-league level. Hamilton went 0 for 4 in Cleveland’s 8-3 win at Goodyear Stadium, but the fact that he got big-league experience trumped the stats.
"It was really a lot of fun. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be able to get out there and get that first taste of getting into the big leagues," he said. "It is something I can learn from and build on.
Players in minor-league camps are shuffled in and out of spring games all the time but for the Indians organization and fans that know his story, it turned into quite an afternoon.
The son of Indians broadcaster Tom Hamilton, Nick Hamilton was three when he was diagnosed with a rare condition that caused him to lose most of his hearing. That didn’t stop him as he ended up leading Kent State to the College World Series in 2012. That same year the Indians selected Hamilton in the 35th round.
Tom Hamilton was in the booth for Monday’s game but did not call the game. As he saw Nick come to the plate for his first at-bat, the elder Hamilton had tears in his eyes and was still choked up after the game talking about it.
"It still is a special moment. You just don’t expect it," Tom Hamilton said. "You were thrilled when he could play in college and get a scholarship. You thought it doesn’t get better than this and then Kent State goes to Omaha and it was just an incredible experience. Then you get drafted by the Indians and it keeps going. We’ve been very blessed."
Not many players in minor-league camps this late in spring training though get a chance to start. Hamilton knew early in the day that he was on the roster but didn’t find out until 10 minutes before the game that he was going to be the designated hitter.
There was a little bit of miscommunication between the Indians and Reds leading up to the game. The Reds, as the home team, set the rules and said that the designated hitter wasn’t going to be used. The Indians wanted to have Nick Swisher as the DH, but by the time the Reds had meetings and decided to let the Indians use a DH, they had already sent Swisher home.
Instead, it led to one of the highlights of spring training.
"Hammy is sitting up in the booth and there’s always a time in spring training to have a special moment," manager Terry Francona said. "I’m sure both of them thought it was pretty cool and our players got a kick out of it."
Nick Hamilton might have been the last to know that he was going to play. Tom Hamilton found out earlier in the morning from his broadcast partner, Jim Rosenhaus, and one of the clubhouse guys called Amy Hafner, who is the wife of former Indians player Travis Hafner. During the offseason, Hafner worked with Hamilton on his hitting.
During the game, Tom Hamilton received text messages from Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall, Georgia’s Scott Stricklin (who was Kent State’s manager when they went to the CWS) and coaches on Kent State’s staff.
The fact that he was facing experienced pitchers didn’t faze Nick Hamilton. Of his four at-bats, he worked the count full twice and did not strike out.
"The first at-bat I was amped up. I was really excited to be out there and took a pitch that I shouldn’t have taken," he said. "As the game went on I just felt a little more comfortable. Just being out there in this environment is a confidence builder. You try to elevate your game but not do too much."
When asked where he would rank getting in Monday’s game with his other accomplishments, Nick Hamilton was more focused on the upcoming season, saying the four at-bats were something he could build on. Hamilton spent last season in Class-A with Lake County and Mahoning Valley. He won’t know where he fits in to the organization’s plans until the end of the month.
Hamilton did allow at the end though that this was definitely something he was going to cherish for a while.
Tom Hamilton’s only regret was that Nick’s mom and younger siblings could have been at the game instead of being at home in Bay Village, Ohio.
"It would have been great to go 4 for 4 but I don’t care. He got four at-bats in a Major League exhibition game and he’s got that for the rest of his life," Tom Hamilton said. "Hopefully there’s more but you never know in this game and with careers so you better enjoy the moments when you can.
"It was pretty neat to be here. I’m still pinching myself. As Jack Buck once said ‘I can’t believe what I just saw’."