CINCINNATI — Billy Hamilton was asked if he thought he could beat Olympics sprinter Usain Bolt in a 100-meter dash from center field to home plate.
Hamilton, who always smiles, never parted his lips except to say, “I don’t know. I have no idea. No, I don’t want to try it. No need to embarrass myself. I’m not big into racing. I just play baseball and run bases.”
Bolt might beat Hamilton, probably would, but it would not be an embarrassment. It would be close.
Hamilton, though, did finally break into a smile and turned the question around. How would Bolt do on a baseball field?
When it was mentioned Bolt would shudder and duck at the sight of a 90 miles an hour fastball, Hamilton said, “Yeah, let him do that and then we’ll go from there. I know it would be easier for me to train and run the 100 meters than it would be for him to come out here and hit and then run. It would be way easier for me because hittiin’ a baseball is not easy. I can train and run the 100 meters for sure.”
THE AMAZING THING about Billy Hamilton is not his penchant for stealing bases, which is eye-popping. But it is the fact he is a Gold Glove outfielder. He doesn’t own one yet, although he thinks he should have had a couple already (and he’s right). If he doesn’t win one this year they should bury the award and forget it. Nobody appears more on TV making stupendous catches than Hamilton.
“If I win it, it will mean a lot, especially coming after a couple of years when I didn’t get it, which I thought I should have,” he said. “Now that I look back and think about it, I wonder, ‘Man, I don’t know what they look for’”
The Gold Glove is voted upon by opposing coaches and managers and it is for defense. Nothing else. Offense doesn’t compute. Unfortunately, too often offense is placed in the assessment. And as Hamilton says, “I feel if it’s a Gold Glove for defense, it shouldn’t be for the offensive side (they have th Silver Sluggr Award for offense). That’s why they call it the Gold Glove, not Gold Bat. I feel I should have had it the last two years.
“But if I do win, it would mean a lot for me for the time I’ve put into it,” he said. That’s the other factor. Hamilton signed as a shortstop and played there for three years in the minors. Then one day, while he was playing at Pensacola in Double-A, he was called into the office late in the 2012 season and told he was going to the Arizona Fall League to learn center field.
He was dumbfounded. So were many others. Why?
“I definitely thought I’d never be able to play in the outfield,” he said. “When they called me into the office and told me, I thought, ‘I have no chance.’ I’d never played outfield in my life.”
BUT ONCE THEY TOLD him the outfield would pave a quicker path to the big leagues than shortstop, Hamilton said, “Sign me up and let’s go learn it.”
“I thought about it and said, ‘How tough can it be out there shagging fly balls?’ Then I got out there the first day and said, ‘Oh, I see how hard it is.’ It is not easy. But if I could get to the big leagues faster, I was willing to take that chance. I never ever thought I’d be where I am right now defensively.”
Another mind-boggling thing is that despite his short time in the outfield, nobody tells him where to play each individual hitter. He is on his own to play shallow or to play deep or to shade left or to shade right.
“They give me the freedom to play in, play where I want to play, and it makes it a lot better when you can play where you want to play rather than where somebody else wants you to play. That’s pretty cool,” he said.
Yes, in less than three years, playing a totally foreign position, Hamilton is one of the best and he should keep a spot on his mantel clear for that Gold Glove.
MEANWHILE, ON OFFENSE, Hamilton continues to steal bases almost at will. The club record is 81 by Bob Bescher, a record that has endured for 95 years. And Hamilton is taking open-eyed aim at it. Heading into Thursday’s game, Hamilton owned 51 stolen bases in 58 tries. Over the past two injury-filled seasons, a learning to hit and get on bases process, Hamilton stole 58 nd 57 bases.
“Breaking the club record would be amazing because it is something I always wanted to do,” he said. “I want to do it to help the team and 81 bags will help them out a lot. I look forward to trying to get it. But it comes not from me stealing bases, it comes from me getting on base. Stolen bases will come if I get on base. I don’t focus on stealikng bases, I focus on getting on base — then I know what’s going to happen. I know I can steal ‘em.”
Maybe they should come up with a Gold Foot Award. Hamilton would win that hands down, or, feet down.