Tales of Billy Hamilton on the basepaths are wondrous
CINCINNATI — The question to Billy Hamilton was a flippant one, a question just to generate a few laughs and nobody expected the shocking reply.
"Does everybody in your family have the same speed trait?" he was asked.
Hamilton smiled broadly and said, "Oh, yes. My two sisters are very fast. My older sister, Felicia, beats me all the time. But not now. She just had a baby."
The Cincinnati Reds are expected to be knocking on her door to sign the first female pinch-runner in baseball history because nobody in the game has seen anybody as fast as Hamilton.
His speed became a social media sensation Wednesday afternoon when he tagged up on a pop fly just beyond the infield skin in St. Louis and scored against the shocked and startled St. Louis Cardinals.
And nobody was more shocked than Jay Bruce, the man who hit the popup. When he hit it, he slammed his bat in dusgust and, shaking his head, headed back toward the dugout, unaware that Hamilton was blazing plateward.
"The Tales of Billy Hamilton" are the stuff of legend. There was the time when he played shortstop at Class A Dayton. Left fielder Juan Duran lost a deep fly ball in the sun. Seeing his friend in dismay, Hamilton sprinted to left field and, with his back to the infield, caught the ball on the warning track.
And there was the time in Dayton when he scored from second base on a sacrifice fly to deep left field when the outfielder caught the ball and ran into the wall.
And there was the time he scored from second base in Dayton on a wild pitch, "But I don’t count that one because the ball hit a brick wall behind home plate and ricocheted off toward the first base dugout."
And there was a four-game series on the road when he played for Dayton when he singled his first time up in the first three games and immediately stole second and third. He singled to open the fourth game, too, and stole second. Then he was stunned to see the second baseman walk over and hold him on second base, his foot on the bag and his glove extended, like a first baseman holding a runner on.
And there was the time when he played in Bakersfield when he scored on a shorter sacrifice fly than he one in St. Louis.
"I scored on a ball that didn’t reach the outfield grass," he said. "It was with the infield playing in and it was the game-winning run in the ninth inning. My good friend Juan Duran was struggling at the plate and he told me, ‘I’m ready to quit baseball.’ I told him to put the ball in play and I’ll do whatever I can to make it happen for you."
So in the bottom of the ninth, with the infield in, "He hit a broken-bat blooper to second base. The second baseman caught it with his back to home plate, so I tagged and scored the game-winning run."
Only two people in Busch Stadium Wednesday expected Hamilton to try to score on Bruce’s pop fly — Hamilton and third base coach Steve Smith. As the ball floated toward shallow right, Smith said, "I want to see how fast you really are." Said Hamilton, "OK, I’ll show you."
But Hamilton already had made up his mind. "Baseball instincts," he said. "Yes, I had it in my mind. The second baseman (Kolten Wong) was going back on the ball and he would have to plant, turn and throw. The right fielder (Jon Jay) was coming in on the run. The scouting reports tell you a lot about the outfielders, too. By reading what I saw, I had I good Idea. By what Smith said, I figured he didn’t really tell me to go, but he was saying to go. So I went."
Asked if Bruce was going to buy him dinner for Hamilton providing him with an easy RBI, Hamilton said, "He buys me dinner all the time, so it doesn’t matter what I do for him. Ever since I’ve been here he has helped me out with everything and not just on the baseball field. About life. If I have a question about anything, I go straight to him. I’d do what I did (run on the short fly) for anybody, but Bruce is one my guys and I knew I had to get that run in for him."
On Wednesday, Hamilton had three hits, a walk and two stolen bases, his first two thefts of the year. Those three hits only raised his average to .192 so it is evident he has been in a struggling vacuum, especially after he went 0 for 4 with four strikeouts on Opening Day against those same Cardinals.
"That game (Wednesday) was a big confidence boost," he said. "My start has been a struggle. I couldn’t sleep at night because I knew I had to do something the next day, knew I had to prove myself.
"Now I feel more relaxed and it tells me, ‘Hey, I can play this game up here,’" Hamilton added. "My teammates gave me the biggest support I ever had. They were all behind me. After every game, every last one of them told me, ‘You’ll be OK, you’re going to be fine.’ They told me the more games I played, the less pressure I’d feel. I was pressing myself too much, trying to go get the game instead of letting it come to me. Instead of just playing the game of baseball, I was trying to play the game of baseball. Now I’m breathing again."
Even the arch-enemy, the St. Louis Cardinals, were giving him support. First baseman Matt Adams and Hamilton have the same agent and are friends. They often have dinner together.
"He told me the game of baseball is about failure," said Hamilton. "Everybody is going to fail. It is the ones who can get through it who succeed. He was with me the whole time, even when I struggled. So I have much respect for him."
Asked if Adams tried to hook his belt loop to hold him back when he got on base, Hamilton laughed and said, "Oh, no. I wasn’t there long enough."