CINCINNATI — Billy Hamilton’s cell phone went off early Wednesday morning and from his pillow-side position he groggily checked a text message.
He quickly jumped out of bed and said, “It’s like Christmas all over again.” The message was that he had been activated by the Cincinnati Reds off the disabled list.
“I was going to sleep in all morning and early afternoon, but I dressed and went to lunch and came to the ball park with a big smile on my face,” he said.
He wasn’t in the lineup Wednesday night, though, as manager Bryan Price is proceeding cautiously and said, “You can’t have a splint removed from your fractured thumb on Sunday and expect to be in the lineup on Wednesday.”
HAMILTON, THOUGH SAID HE is ready to do it all — hit, run, steal bases, chase down line drives and, hopefully get on base.
The last two years Hamilton has led the league in stolen bases going into September but injuries robbed him of the title. And here it is again. Hamilton leads with 58, but Miami’s Dee Gordon, one of Hamilton’s best friends, is only three behind. And it was Gordon who swiped the title away from him last year when Hamilton missed the end of the season.
“That’s one of the honors I would love to have,” he said. “The last couple of years I wasn’t able to finish the season so guys came back and got me at the end. We have two weeks to go and everybody is letting me know he is only three behind. This time I have to get the job done.”
HAMILTON SMILED AND SAID, “I texted him and told him to slow down a little bit. . .no, I didn’t really do that. I’d never do that.” But he is thinking it.
And then there is the Gold Glove, another award he deserved last year but didnt get. If anything, he deserves it even more this season with more spectacular plays than the Flying Wallendas on the high wire.
Hamiton believes his absence last September made voters forget about him.
“I got a call last year that I didn’t get it and I was surprised, really,” he said. “I really believe that came from me not playing the last month. I just need to stay on the field now and there is a good chance I can win it.”
DEFENSE AND STEALING BASES are easy pickings for Hamilton. The problem so far has been getting on base with his .248 batting average and his .333 on base average. And he knows it.
“For next year I want to improve my hitting and get on base more and that comes with hitting,” he said. “I feel like I made some strides this year where I learned a little bit about hitting, even though my numbers aren’t showing it.
“Hitting is not my specialty, isn’t my thing,” he said. “Some players can hit, some can’t. Some can hit but can’t play defense. Some can play defense and can’t hit. I’m trying to get to the point where I can do both. Hitting is hard. Switch-hitting is even harder.
“Consistency is my biggest key for next year,” he said. “Right now I get on a hot streak for two weeks and be good and then I go for a few weeks at being bad. To be a good hitter, you have to be consistent the whole year, like Joey Votto.”
Good luck with that.
FANS WONDER JUST HOW many bases Hamilton might steal if he finds more ways to reach base and more ways to do it more often.
“I think about that all the time,” he said. “I’ll be talking to the guys during batting practice and reading some of the statistics on the scoreboard and I say, ‘Just imagine if I hit .300 how many bags (baseball vernacular for stolen bases) I’d have.’ It is going to get there, it is going to happen.”
MANAGER BRYAN PRICE believes it, too, but realizes Hamilton just finished his fourth season and improvement in batting average and on-base percentage is stagnant.
Of Hamilton’s season, Price said, “It’s a Gold Glove calibre season. He has nearly 60 stolen bases. He had some nice runs offensively, especially from the left side. I would still like to see a better strike zone command, more balls in play and to see his on-base percentage go up.
“However, we’re all chasing improvement,” said Price. “Every player on this team should chase improvement and they are.”
Despite Hamilton’s glaring shortcomings, Price is a Billy Booster and said, “He impacts our club positively in a lot of different ways. I don’t want to solely dwell on the areas where he needs improvement without saying how he impacts our team.
“When he gets on base he scores, when he is in center field he defends at a high rate so I think it has been a solid season for him,” Price added.
Price was asked if, after four years and little improvement in some areas, this is who Hamilton is.
“I can’t see in the future. To this point, that is who he is. But I’d hate to define him,” said Price. “It would be like saying at 26 or 27 that Zack Cozart is a .255 hitter. This year he is a .300 hitter with a .390 on base and 23 homers.”
Throwing an umbrella over the entire team, Price said, “What I admire about this club universally and individually is the desire to get better. I am not going to sign off on Billy Hamilton being just a .300 on-base guy. He has the ability to be better than that by improving his bunting and his strike zone command. We’ve seem it with Cozart and Eugenio Suarez and their on-base averages jumped significantly.
“Billy is too good of an athlete and too hard of a worker to not become a better offensive player,” said Price.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
While talking about the Gold Glove, Billy Hamilton said, “I really want Duvy (Adam Duvall) to win a Gold Glove. He deserves it, probaby more than I do. He has been unreal to watch. If he doesn’t win it I’m going to be mad.”