Hitting prowess runs in Hamilton family
ARLINGTON, Texas — Long before Josh Hamilton was
making history like he did Tuesday night with his four-homer game in Baltimore,
another member of his family was also a prodigious power hitter.
In fact, if it weren’t for the home run hitting abilities of one of his
parents, there may never have been a Josh Hamilton.
That’s why everyone who’s a fan of Hamilton should be thankful for the hitting
prowess of Hamilton’s mom, Linda.
“My dad went to watch a men’s softball game and when they got out of the
car, the softball game had been canceled,” Josh Hamilton said. “The
women were playing on the men’s field and this ball comes flying into the
parking lot. He said ‘Let’s go see who did that.’ The next at-bat she hits the
ball to center. The next one goes to right. The next at-bat she hits it off the
wall in center. He said he needed to talk to her. After the game he went up to
her, introduced himself and asked if she’d like to go out some time.”
That game helped pave the way to marriage and eventually one of the best
players in baseball. More than 30 years later, Hamilton is putting up Most
Valuable Player-caliber numbers and the two-time defending American League
champion Texas Rangers are in first place in the AL West.
While his numbers are impressive, he’s really just following along in the
family business his mom helped blaze a trail through in North Carolina.
When Linda Holt — who declined to be interviewed for this story — was a
freshman at Cary High School, she was good enough at baseball to make the
varsity team. The one problem with that equation was that Linda didn’t want to
wear a cup, effectively ending her baseball career.
But that didn’t stop her from playing, though, as Cary started a slow-pitch
softball team. Linda became one of the best players on the team.
“She was just the tops at the plate and at first base,” said Barbara
Stephens, who was the head coach at Cary when the softball program started in
1974 with Holt a member of their first team. “She was a good defensive
player. She had a first baseman’s mitt and nothing got past her. She’d pull the
ball out of the dirt. She was part of a great softball team.”
Softball in North Carolina was in its infancy when Holt began playing at Cary.
The school couldn’t participate in the state playoffs because it was a start-up
program. Opportunities for softball players also ended after high school
because prior to 1994, high schools in North Carolina only played slow pitch, while the NCAA only sanctions fast pitch. Both Hamilton and Stephens believe that
if there were, Hamilton’s mom would have played collegiately.
“If women would have had more opportunity at the time, she would have gone
really far,” Stephens said. “She went about as far as she could go
considering the time, especially in the South, especially in Wake County.”
Just because she didn’t get to play after high school didn’t mean she gave up
on softball. She played softball even when Josh and his older brother Jason
were growing up.
“It was cool for me,” Hamilton said. “I was the water boy for
her softball team. My brother was the batboy.”
Holt continued to have success, too. Hamilton said her team won a national
tournament in the 1980s, and she would play catch with Josh when Hamilton’s
father Tony couldn’t during Josh’s days at Athens Drive High School.
While Hamilton got some of his ability from his father — who played baseball,
taught karate and also held a local bench-press record — there’s no denying
some of his mom’s skills rubbed off on him, too.
Stephens knows because not only did she coach Holt, she taught Hamilton at Athens
Drive and watched him play baseball before he was the No. 1 overall pick of the
Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999.
“They were both just strong physical players,” said Stephens, who
taught Hamilton a course called PEPI, which stood for physical education pupil
instructors. “A.J. (Holt’s nickname) was such a strong physical player.
You could also see that in Josh. As far as skill, the level of skill is similar
when you just take a man vs. a woman. Their dedication was similar. Their focus
was similar. I was just fortunate to see the both of them.”
The Holt-Hamilton athletic genes may not have ended with Josh, either. Hamilton
and his wife, Katie, have four daughters. The three oldest are involved in
sports, with one playing volleyball, one playing softball and one playing
Hamilton watches them play sports when he can and knows their athletic ability
likely comes from his side of the family. While Katie is competitive at
everything she does, she’s also very small. The girls, however, may take after
their dad and their grandmother.
“I’m watching the seventh-month-old,” said Hamilton of his daughter
Stella Faith. “She’s a beast. At two months old, she was hitting one of
those things that they swing at when they’re lying on their back. She was
hitting it with her right hand and then she would be able to stop it. She’s got
a lot of coordination.”
Just like dad. Or is it more like her grandmother?