Billy Hamilton's secret weapon
CINCINNATI – The secret is out on Billy Hamilton. It’s something mothers aren’t going to want to hear because kids imitate their sports heroes.
But, here it is. Hamilton drinks Mountain Dew, the soft drink that takes hyperactivity in kids to a high level. And Hamilton doesn’t just drink it, he fills up on it like a high-powered engine sucks up gasoline.
“Yeah, even during games I sneak up to the clubhouse and drink it,” said the man who has stolen 13 bases in 13 attempts in only 11 games, two of which he has started and the rest he has entered as a pinch-runner.
In his short time in a Cincinnati Reds uniform his impact has already hit the streets. There are Billy Hamilton T-shirts on sale in the trinket kiosks outside Great American Ball Park.
He has stolen 13 bases against 13 different pitchers and an assortment of catchers that includes legendary Yadier Molina, against whom players seldom dare try to steal, let alone succeed.
Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan, too, is one of the best at throwing out would-be stealers — 12 of 29 (41 percent) and he says, “I’d love to take a shot at throwing him out.”
And Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto, one of the best right-handers in the game at picking off runners, smiled and said, “I’ve seen his lead. I’d pick him off.”
When told what Hanigan and Cueto said, Hamilton shook his head and said, “That’s what they said, huh? Well, maybe. But they’re my teammates and they’ll never find out.”
Of his early success and attention, Hamilton said, “Man, it’s crazy. I never expected it to be like this. I figured I’d just be a September call-up and I was expecting to do much. This has been a crazy week for me. And I hope it doesn’t slow down. I’m lovin’ it and if I can just keep helping the team I can handle this.”
Asked if he is angling for a commercial deal with Mountain Dew, he said, “Hey, it helps me out. If a deal comes along, I’ll take it. Right now, Mountain Dew is the key. Maybe it doesn’t help all people, but it makes me run fast. I drink a lot of it every day.”
Every day his locker is surrounded by media while the other September call-ups dress among themselves in relative obscurity. And several times his locker has been surrounded after games by the media when he has helped to contribute to victories — at least four so far.
“I never expected it to be like this,” he said. “I never expected to come in and get all this attention so quickly. It has been a blessing and I’m really enjoying it and having fun and hoping I can help the team to some more wins.”
When Hamilton gets on base, after he takes his lead, he begins pawing the dirt with his right foot, like a bull ready to charge a matador. What’s that all about?
“I can’t tell you all my secrets,” he said. “That’s just part of me getting ready to steal second base.”
And of his baggy pants, which resemble clown britches, Hamilton says, “Hey, my baggy pants don’t slow me down. Not at all.”
The question now is if the Reds will included the 22-year-old 152-pound outfielder on their postseason roster.
Manager Dusty Baker, of course, plays it cagey.
“I had to fight for him, fight to get him here,” said Baker. “It was a struggle to get him here. I’m glad I won.”
And now Baker might be fighting for him again for the postseason.
“We’ve had discussions about it,” he said. “We haven’t decided on it. There are a lot of variables, things we have to decide. That’s not the focal point of where we’re going. Billy is just a part of it.
“Yes, he has brought excitement, he has brought speed, he has brought youth,” said Baker. “He Is a fine young man and isn’t in awe of anything up here.”
Baker said Hamilton reminds him of a former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder in the 1980s named Willie McGee, who stole 357 bases in 18 seasons. He helped the Cardinals to the 1982 World Series championship, he won two batting titles and was NL MVP in 1985.
“Billy reminds me of Willie McGee in Willie’s rookie year, when he set his career in motion,” said Baker. “Billy pays attention, is learning a lot and has made some changes that have done him a lot of good.”
And the Reds are ready to keep the cooler filled with Mountain Dew.