CINCINNATI — If the home plate umpire would allow it, Billy Hamilton would take a white bath towel with him to home plate when he bats. And despite his early-season miseries it wouldn’t be because he was throwing in the towel or waving a white flag.
The Economy Towel Service and Cincinnati Reds hitting coach Don Long deserve credit for the recent surge in Hamilton’s productivity at the plate.
Long noticed a while back that Hamilton’s back elbow was too high when he stood at the plate. So he devised a gimmick. He wrapped a towel with advesive tape into a round bundle and told Hamilton to tuck it under his arm when he took batting practice. That would keep his arm and elbow down and keep the towel in place until he swung. If he lifted his arm too soon, the towel would fall to the ground.
Since he became a towel boy Hamilton has put together a six-game hitting streak during which he has gone 7 for 19 (368) with a home run, two doubles, two walks, two RBI and four runs scored.
“I know it has been a struggle for me from the beginning,” said Hamilton. “I was asking myself, ‘Why am I just missing these balls a little bit? I feel like I was on time with my swing, I am ready and I have clear thoughts. I have all those things and it just ain’t working.’”
Hamilton asked Long what he should do and they sat down to watch film and Long came up with the high elbow diagnosis, that every time Hamilton swung, his back elbow was too high. And he came up with the wrapped towel remedy.
“This towel is going to be your best friend for the rest of the season,” said Long, who told Hamilton to make sure he doesn’t utilize his new best friend in a post-game shower.
Hamilton asked Long, “What am I going to do with this?” Long told him to keep the towel tucked until he gets ready to swing and Hamilton said, “I tried it in the cage and on the first swing I hit a line drive right back through the middle. I didn’t feel any movement on top and Long said that’s what he wanted. I kept practicing and suddenly I was seeing pitches better, I was on time, my bat angle was better.”
Even when he keeps his elbow down, the towel falls to the batter’s box when he completes his swing and Hamilton was asked about the tedium of picking it up and tucking it back under his arm after every swing.
“As long as it is helping me in games, I’ll pick it up every single time,” he said. “If I could take it to the plate with me during games I would. Picking the towel up isn’t that much work and if I do it right it lands right at my feet.”
How bad was it for Hamilton, who hovered around the .150 mark for the first month of the season and occupied ninth place in the batting order, below the pitcher?
“I went from, ‘Oh, no, this is another at bat,’ to thinking, ‘Oh, I’m ready to bat, I’m ready to hit,’” he said. “I shouldn’t be admitting to that, but I wasn’t ready to hit and all I thought was, ‘Oh, no, it’s my time to bat, it’s my time to bat.’ Now I’m thinking, ‘I want to bat, when is it my turn to bat?’ I am full of confidence right now.”
Hamilton was even proud of three pop-ups he hit Monday against the Mets after he hit a home run in his first at bat.
“I know I popped up three times but last week I wasn’t even touching those same pitches, not even fouling them off,” he said. “Now I’m getting to the ball and it feels great.”
And Hamilton makes it known that he is emphatically against batting ninth and emphatically against the four-man outfield rotation.
“I am never in my life going to be comfortable batting in that nine-hole,” he said. “I can be comfortable at the plate, but not comfortable knowing I am in the nine-hole. That’s where I don’t want to bat. I want leadoff. But until I continue to do what I’m doing now, and get better, I can’t move back up to leadoff. As a player, I won’t ever be comfortable ninth. That’s my goal, to get back to the top.”
And of the four-man outfield rotation involving Hamilton, Adam Duvall, Jesse Winker and Scott Schlebler, Hamilton said, “None of us much likes the outfield rotation. As a player you don’t want to sit out. You want to play every single day. For me, my defense is always going to be there. I just have to prove to Jim (manager Riggleman) that I should be be in there every single day. I want to prove to Jim that I should be batting leadoff and playing every day.”
Riggleman says the four-man outfield rotation will be coming to an end and when it does he wants Hamilton roaming center field because of his defense. But he can’t be an automatic out at the plate.
An example of Hamilton’s value surfaces nearly once or twice every game. On Monday Hamilton concocted a long running catch on a ball crushed by Asdrubel Cabrera hit into the right center field gap.
Statcast said he had less than a 20 per cent probability of catching the ball, due to exit velocity and the ground Hamilton had to cover to catch up to it.
Hamilton laughed and said, “I’m not too big on Statcast. I just try to get there, no matter how it looks or how I get there. Even if I take a bad route, if I get there, well, I just love making those plays.
“Adam Duvall made two great catches, too,” said Hamilton. “Duvy and I are both struggling on offense, but we both still go out there and give 100 per cent on defense. You can’t lack on both offense and defense. That’s one thing we talk about all the time (they locker side-by-side), that the least we can do is play 100 per cent on defense as we go through offensive struggles.
“It makes your day better when you make a diving catch in the gap, it gives you a little bit of relief,” Hamilton added.
His days have never been bad defensively, but in the last week his offense has made his days complete.