CINCINNATI — Once upon a time, Billyball was the brand of maniacal baseball played by teams managed by Billy Martin, the hard-drinking, fist-swinging, umpire-baiting, baseball genius.
This is a new day and The New Billyball is associated with the flying feet on Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton.
He scores from third base on pop flies barely to the outfield grass. He goes from first to home on short singles. And twice this year he has scored from second base on infield grounders. In short, Hamilton covers more ground than the Chinese army.
IT IS OBVIOUS WHAT Hamilton does to pitchers when he gets on base. He makes them more jittery than a caffeine addict.
And observers can tell Hamilton has more fun on the base paths than kids at their first birthday parties. He dances and darts off the bases, a huge smile on his face. Then he’s gone in a swirl of dust and a flurry of flailing arms and legs.
He is one of the few things worth seeing these days in Great American Ball Park.
Hamilton says, “The pre-pitch is more fun than stealing the base,” when he is baiting the pitcher, causing the pitcher to pay more attention to him than the batter. That benefits both Hamilton and the batter because a distracted pitcher is likely to mislocate a pitch that ends up in the upper deck.
“It is especially fun when you have guys who don’t throw pick-offs, like Jon Lester (Chicago Cubs) and Matt Garza (Milwaukee Brewers),” said Hamilton. “You can mess with them because you know they won’t try to pick you off. They just step off (the rubber). And they just look at you and that’s fun for me because I know I’m in their heads.”
HAMILTON’s TEAMMATES LOVE it when he is on base and the pitchers pays more attention to him than the batter, “Because if they are paying attention to me, they aren’t paying much attention to the plate and they might throw the ball right over the plate and our guy might hit a home run.
“I love to get on base and my teammates tell me they love it when I get on base because they are pretty much going to get fastballs most of the time,” he said. “I was talking to Cozy (Zack Cozart) about it and he said, ‘When you are on base, they don’t know what to do. They panic.’ And that’s fun.”
Hamilton laughs about twice scoring from second base on ground balls to the infield and actually calls it a stupid play — a stupid play that has worked twice without Hamilton getting caught.
“It is one of those stupid things I do on the bases,” he said. “But it’s fun.”
HAMILTON SCORED FROM second Friday night when the Reds also had a runner on first with one out. Adam Duvall grounded to third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who tried for the doubles play. Duvall ran hard to first and beat the double play throw and Hamilton kept running around third and scored.
“I credit Duvall and I told him, ‘If you don’t run that ball out and it’s a double play I can’t do that, I never score.’ That gave him an RBI and a big-time run that we needed at the time. I did it and I look back at it and I still think it’s stupid but I’ve done a bunch of stupid things in baseball, but it’s fun doing that.”
About his methodology, Hamilton smiled and said, “Some reporter said, ‘That’s just Billyball again.’ It is not surprising any more for people who watch us. But for me to be out there and have no fear of getting thrown out is fun. You can’t have fear, you can’t have second thoughts. You have to decide to do it and you can’t hesitate. Most guys might be scared to take that risk, fear being thrown out, but it is just fun for me to try something stupid and do it. ”
He who hesitates is out.
Hamilton’s problem last year and early this year was an inability to get on base. He who makes out can’t run the bases. But just prior to the All-Star break Hamilton began hitting and getting on base and carried it over Friday night to the first game after the All-Star break in the 5-3 win over the Brewers.
HAMILTON SAID BOTH times he scored from second on ground balls he didn’t even see third base coach Billy Hatcher, didn’t wait for a stop or a go sign. “No time for that,” said Hamilton. “Hatch is just a blur when I go by him, I don’t see him. I run too fast too look at him. It is always instincts.”
That’s the way it is when you run like the wind.