Hamilton and Thome get their days as Progressive Field celebrates 20 years
Cleveland Indians radio announcer Tom Hamilton talks after being honored for 25 years of broadcasting, prior to the Indians' baseball game against the Texas Rangers on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Aaron Josefczyk)
CLEVELAND — Tom Hamilton didn’t want Friday night to be about him, but on a weekend when the Indians are celebrating 20 years at the Corner of Ontario and Carnegie and unveiling a statue of one of the greatest players of the Jacobs/Progressive Field Era, it is appropriate that the franchise honored him.
Hamilton, who is in his 25th season calling Indians games on radio, didn’t know though in 1990 how long he would be calling games in Cleveland. That spring the sin tax was on the ballot for the Gateway project and if it failed, he might have been following the franchise to Tampa.
However the sin tax did pass and general manager Hank Peters along with John Hart began the process of building a club that could contend when the ballpark opened in 1994. Not that there wasn’t a lot of pain along the way. In 1991, the franchise lost a record 105 games.
"I thought the vantage point (in the radio booth) at the old stadium was the best in baseball. You were close but there was enough time in the booth to react to foul balls," Hamilton said. "Plus you got to look out at Lake Erie and in the early ’90s it was better to look out there most nights.
"Hank was right though. He knew that team (in 1990 which went 7-85) wasn’t good enough to win and so he went out, traded some veterans for more young kids and hopefully have it come together when the new park opens. Seldom does it go together as planned but when it opened they were ready to win."
Even after the sin tax passed, Hamilton couldn’t imagine a ballpark being built on the plot of land where it sits. As it started to take shape, a trip to Baltimore for the first game at Camden Yards in 1992 began to show what could happen here.
Hamilton got to take periodic tours of the ballpark while it was being built, but he was still in awe calling the first game here in 1994, which was an exhibition game against the Pirates. Two days later, the Indians beat the Mariners in 11 innings on a Wayne Kirby single.
"That game is still hard to top," Hamilton said. "The President throws out the first pitch, the ballpark itself, Seattle is here. They’re good, we’re good. Randy Johnson with the threat of a no-hitter and Bob Feller pacing the hallways. That game with the comeback was a microcosm of what we would see the rest of the decade."
Ask Hamilton to give his other favorite moments from the ballpark and he says he could go on and on. From the division clincher against Baltimore in 1995 to the ’95 and ’97 postseason to the 2001 rally against Seattle to last year’s home run by Jason Giambi against the White Sox.
Added Hamilton about the ballpark: "It was even better than you thought it could be. I still think this is one of the great parks in baseball. It has stood the test of time."
Jim Thome was on the field during the ceremonies honoring Hamilton. On Saturday, Thome gets his day as his statue will be unveiled in Heritage Park at 5 p.m. Of his 612 home runs, 337 were with the Indians.
Thome came up with the Indians in 1991 and as Hamilton noted "everything that was good about the ’90s, Jim Thome was a huge part of."
"He is one of the greatest players to wear the Indians uniform and one of finest human beings I’ve met," Hamilton said. "He’s no different now than when I first met him and that’s the mark of a true man and great human being."
The players have changed along with his broadcast partners but Hamilton has been the constant for two generations of fans. One generation grew up on Herb Score during their childhood. As we became adults, it was Hamilton. Now many of us who have children are passing a love of the game on to them via Hamilton.
Of all the sports, baseball is the one that still resonates on radio and the voices become a part of the family. Because of that, Hamilton often says how blessed he is to have called games here for a quarter century.
"To me this shouldn’t be about me. I should be thanking them. I dreamed was the impossible dream and it became a reality," Hamilton said. "It’s humbling they would honor me but I’m still looking at the future. One of the first things Herb Score taught me was you may see something tonight you have never seen before and never see again. That’s the beauty of Major League Baseball."