Hamiltons savor Kent State’s run

Tom Hamilton, radio voice for the Cleveland Indians, travels and talks baseball for a living.

His is a pretty good gig.

But when Hamilton has put away his score cards this week at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati (the Indians are visiting the Reds) and taken a glance at an itinerary that says he’s leaving Saturday morning to go watch his son, Nick, play in Omaha at the College World Series, he has encountered an issue.

“I don’t have any words,” he said earlier this week, only half-jokingly.

Hamilton, in his 23rd season on the job, has been a proud, ticket-carrying member of the Kent State Baseball traveling party and the Flashes’ NCAA Tournament run from Gary, Ind., to Eugene, Ore., and now to Omaha, where they’ll start the College World Series Saturday afternoon vs. Arkansas.

That’s when Tom Hamilton says he’ll become a nervous wreck all over again.

“I told my wife that this is the greatest weight-loss program of all time,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve eaten for two weeks. You’re nervous. You don’t sleep well.

“We’re trying to enjoy this. It’s so special. It’s something these kids will talk about the rest of their lives.”

Kent State is in the College World Series for the first time thanks to the heroics of many — and a bunch of one-run wins. The Flashes took two of three one-run games in the Super Regional last weekend at Oregon to become the first Ohio school to make the College World Series since 1970 and the first Mid-American Conference program to get there since 1976.

Kent State won the deciding Game 3 of the Super Regionals Monday night, 3-2. Early Tuesday morning, Tom Hamilton flew from Eugene, Ore., to Salt Lake City, where he caught a connecting flight to Cincinnati and landed a little more than three hours before he went on the air for the first game of the Reds-Indians series.

He’ll call Friday night’s Indians game, then fly Saturday morning from Cleveland to Minneapolis to Omaha, where he’ll remain — with the Indians’ blessing — as long as Kent State is still playing.

“It’s the best baseball joyride I’ve ever had,” he said.

Nick Hamilton and his teammates have been in Omaha since Tuesday. They had formal workouts Wednesday and Thursday, and the College World Series starts Friday afternoon when Stony Brook takes on UCLA.

The usual designated hitter for the Flashes (46-18), Nick Hamilton ranks third on the team with a batting average of .347. He’s driven in 35 runs in 52 games, 41 as a starter.

Nick Hamilton played his high school baseball at Avon Lake and started his college career at Xavier. He transferred after one year, sat out a year then was a backup on a Kent State team a year ago that pushed Texas to the brink in the regionals. He’s had to earn everything his entire career, not just this year, and his father thinks that’s served him well.

“I don’t think people have ever appreciated how good the program is at Kent State,” Tom Hamilton said. “It’s been the best college baseball program in the Midwest now for quite a while. That’s not to disparage any Big Ten program or anything any other program has accomplished, but it is.

“When you go to Kent, you’re going to have to wait your turn. Nick wanted that challenge. It’s made him a better player.

“We’re just blessed that he’s been able to play at a high level. For us, it was an incredible accomplishment for Nick just to get recruited.”

It was even better two weeks ago when the Indians selected Nick Hamilton in the 36th round of Major League Baseball draft.

“I’m on a pretty good run,” Nick Hamilton said. “I just really wanted to be a part of this year’s team, whatever it was going to take. I worked for it. Last year was great, even though I didn’t play a lot, and it served as motivation in the offseason — not just for me but the whole team.

“We worked like this was possible, even if we still aren’t sure it’s real.”

Nick Hamilton said his father constantly reminded him that the big leaguers he grew up idolizing and emulating had molded their talents through hard work, and that his father’s favorite stories of the Indians were less from games and more from the players who did extra work after games or in spring training.

“It really was great being around all these guys as a young kid, being treated like I was somebody, but I never forgot those stories,” Nick said. “Dad would talk about Charlie Nagy taking a fielding drill in spring training as seriously as he took a big inning vs. the Tigers. And the reason I wear No. 7 is because I always admired Kenny Lofton and how hard he worked at every single aspect of his game, every day.”

The Golden Flashes have followed those 1990’s Indians teams in playing wild, thrilling games over the last couple of weeks. Nick Hamilton called the 21-inning win over Kentucky in Kent State’s first NCAA Tournament game “the greatest game I’ve ever played in, and the greatest game I’ve ever seen.”

His dad found that hard to argue.

“It’s been surreal since that 21-inning game,” Tom Hamilton said. “We were talking with some of the other parents last weekend. It’s been kind of like fantasy land ever since that game.

“We’re totally exhausted, but we don’t need any sleep. We’re just so excited.”

Tom Hamilton has called World Series games and games in Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and all of baseball’s loudest and most historic ballparks. He sees Omaha’s shiny new TD AmeriTrade Park as a new frontier of sorts, and not just because he’ll have a seat amongst the sold-out crowd rather than a perch in the radio booth.

“I really don’t know what I’ll feel, but I know I just can’t wait,” he said. “Nick told me the players are being treated like a rock band. It’s such a big deal in that city that I don’t think we can comprehend until we get there.

“The feeling of the last couple weeks is unlike anything I’ve ever felt.”