CINCINNATI — What’s left for Cincinnati Reds fans this season? What is left for their enjoyment now that the All-Star game is over and Todd Frazier is the Home Run Derby king?
Most of it probably involves Billy Hamilton. When is he going to steal home for the first time? When is he going to hit an inside the park home run for the first time?
THOSE ARE ON Hamilton’s Bucket List because unlike last year he is a Man With a Plan.
For example, for quite a while Hamilton has had it in his mind that he was going to steal third base when the catcher threw the ball back to the pitcher. And it happened just before the All-Star break in Miami. Hamilton was on second and a pitch was made. Hamilton acted as if he was meandering back toward second base. As soon as the catcher tossed the ball toward the pitcher Hamilton broke for third and stole it standing up.
On Friday night against the Cleveland Indians, Hamilton was on third after an infield hit, a stolen base and a wild throw into center field. The infield was drawn in when Brandon Phillips grounded directly to shortstop Francisco Lindor. He looked Hamilton back toward third and threw to first. As he released his throw to first, Hamilton broke for home and easily beat first baseman Carlos Santana’s throw home.
SPEED KILLS? YES, it does. And it excites and it thrills and it puts defender’s at a supreme discomfort level.
That’s the essence of Billy Hamilton.
“To do those thing you have to be 100 per cent sure that you are going to do it,” said Hamilton of his daring dashes. “You can’t think about it, there is no hesitation, you have to know that you are going right away. If you think one split second, it makes a difference. Make your mind up before it happens.”
Hamilton is 45 for 51 in stolen base attempts after going 56 for 79 last yerar. He has been arrested on the base paths far fewer times this year.
“I’m being smarter this year,” said Hamilton. “Last year it was just me running and not knowing situations. I’d be hesitant. Now I know what I’m going to do ahead of time. Last year I’d think about a whole bunch of stuff. You can’t think about it. Like Miami. I planned that out a long time and waited for the right time to do it. It’s one thing I’ve been wanting to do, planning it for a while. I waited for the right time and that was it.”
AND HIS FIRST steal of home?
“Stealing home is still in my mind,” he said. “I have it all mapped out on how it is going to happen. I’m looking forward to it. You can’t think about it at the time, like I did last year when I tried to steal home. I was thinking about it too much and I wasn’t 100 per cent sure about it.”
And the inside the park home run?
“You can’t plan for that,” he said. “That’s a matter of circumstances, everything has to fall in place just right.” With his flying feet, though, Hamilton doesn’t need a plan. Just the opportunity.
“THERE ARE A LOT of guys who can run fast,” said manager Bryan Price. “But Billy has an attachment to his speed and he is always looking to take advantage and utilize that speed tool. Most of us never get to experience what it is like to do the things Billy has done.
“He has become a better student of the game,” said Price. “He has invested more time in knowing the pitchers and not forcing things. When you have a speed tool and that’s the tool everybody talks about it, it’s seductive. It is as seductive as power. Everyone knew who Billy Hamilton was before he ever set foot in the big leagues because of his 155 steal one year in the minors. He was no secret. But you have to temper that before you put it on display, knowing when and where.”
WHAT MOST PEOPLE did not know about was Hamilton’s Gold Glove qualities in center field, a position he never played until a few years ago when he was converted from shortstop.
Price was pitching coach when Drew Stubbs roamed center field for the Reds, chasing everything down. He was nearly as speedy as Hamilton but seldom took advantage of it offensively.
“Both are outstanding extinctive outfielders,” said Price. “Billy may cover more ground. Stubbs was a guy bred for center field and Billy is still learning the ins and outs of center field. But I still don’t know if there is a better center fielder in baseball than Hamilton, as far as covering ground, making catches on the run, going into the wall, going over the wall, interacting with the corner outfielders, going in on balls and going back.
“Stubbs was more of your classic center fielder and nothing ever looked difficult to him,” Price added. “Every ball that went out to Stubbs he made look like a routine play. That’s the direction Billy is headed and I believe he is going to be one of the truly great center fielders of his generation.”
HAMILTON SAYS HE uses center field to forget his problems at home plate, a .221 batting average and .268 on base average.
“Defense takes my mind off the offensive struggles I’ve had this year,” said Hamilton. “I play defense to take my mind off things and it’s fun. And (left fielder) Marlon Byrd makes it fun because I can joke around with him about things. After getting away from home plate I can get my mind off it and have fun out there running down balls. I hear the bullpen cheering me on by yelling, ‘Hey, man, run that ball down. Run it down.’ It’s awesome to hear them yelling when I make a play.”
THE REDS HAVE a doubleheader Wednesday that includes a make-up game with the Chicago Cubs from a rainout.
A starting pitcher will be needed and it looks as if that pitcher might be left hander Tony Cingrani, who is standing them on their bats for the Class AAA Louisville Bats.
“We had a very good report on Tony from a game he pitched Friday,” said Price. “He went five innings and threw 93 pitches, which seems high for five innings. But the last hitter had a 15-pitch at-bat before Tony struck him out looking.
“HE HAS 14 INNINGS with no runs, six hits, 18 strikeouts,” said Price. “And it looks as if his breaking ball has gotten better, getting a feel for it. And that would benefit all of us if he can come in with that mix and maintain his velocity. We had to build his endurance and stamina and it looks as if he is there.
PITCHER HOMER BAILEY (remember him?) did some wind sprints on the field before Friday’s game, his first activity on the field since his Tommy John surgery in early May.
“First time I’ve run,” he said. “I guess they didn’t want me jarring that elbow. I ran sprints of 20, 30 and 40 yards. That was a half an hour ago and I’m still breathing hard. In fact, I can barely breathe.”