Hamilton batting cleanup in life
BY KEVIN KELLY | KKELLY@ENQUIRER.COM
Josh Hamilton wanted to see the field, step onto its emerald green turf and experience the sensation of 40,000 empty red seats encircling him.
A tarp covered the infield Saturday morning at Great American Ball Park, but it didn’t diminish the thrill of the Reds outfielder’s first daytime peek of the stadium from field level.
“Have you seen that movie Talladega Nights when Ricky Bobby gets in the race car for the first time?” he asks. “That’s what it was like.”
Hamilton shared the moment with Reds catcher Chad Moeller and Johnny Narron, a major league video and administrative coach with the Reds.
“He was giddy,” Moeller said. “It was really cool to see because sometimes you forget that he’s never been in the big leagues because of the kind of talent he has and how he carries himself. He is such a good story.”
The Reds took a $50,000 gamble acquiring Hamilton via a Rule 5 draft trade in December, but the risk now smacks of smart foresight.
Out of baseball and working on a construction crew one year ago, the former No.1 overall draft pick is about to start playing out a dream that drug addiction almost curtailed. Hamilton will wear a Reds uniform today as one of 25 players on the team’s Opening Day roster.
“I think I’m where I’m supposed to be,” he said Sunday. “I think God has definitely got me where I need to be and He allowed me to do well enough to make it a little easier on other people to decide.
“Who knows where I’d be right now if I hit .130 and just looked bad. I’m just glad I had good at-bats. Not saying I’ll have good at-bats the rest of this year, but hopefully I can keep going in this direction.”
A solid spring training left no doubts Hamilton, 25, would break camp and head North with the Reds.
“He had started opening eyes from Day 1,” Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky said.
Hamilton batted .403 and despite dealing with shin splints much of the spring displayed the unique skill set that earned him a reputation as a can’t miss prospect before the Tampa Bay Devil Rays drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 1999.
“To sit out for three, four years and then the plate discipline that he’s shown, the at-bats, it’s incredible,” Reds manager Jerry Narron said. “Right now we’ve got to figure out a way to get him as many at-bats and get him as many games as possible. We’ll see what happens with him after that.”
Today promises to be packed with emotions for Hamilton and those with whom he is closest.
His wife, Katie, and the couple’s two young children. His mother and father. His mother-in-law and father-in-law. His brother and sister-in-law. A few friends of the family. Each will be in the stands today.
“I came here (Saturday) afternoon and dropped some stuff off,” Hamilton said. “I was able to take my mom, my dad and my wife around and show them the field.
“Mom started crying. My dad was teary-eyed. He told me, ‘Honest to God, I never thought I’d see you play baseball again.’ So it means a lot. I was able to get my life together and become a responsible dad and husband.”
Drug addiction and multiple suspensions cost Hamilton almost four full seasons of baseball development. Major League Baseball reinstated him in June and he played 15 games with Tampa Bay’s short-season Class A affiliate at Hudson Valley.
In all, he’s played just 23 pro games above Class A.
Marlins vice president of player personnel Dan Jennings was Tampa Bay’s scouting director when that team drafted Hamilton.
One of the first things Jennings did each morning during spring training was check the Reds’ box scores in the newspaper.
“Other than Alex Rodriguez, he is the best amateur player I’ve ever scouted,” Jennings said. “That’s not too bad. And I give Alex the edge only because he was a shortstop.
“I love that kid and am so pulling for him…. He was the All-American boy. That’s still in there. The person is who the person is and he is a great kid.”
The Reds have a support system in place for Hamilton.
Johnny Narron knew Hamilton as a teen and will be a constant presence around the player this season.
Hamilton said the response from fans this spring was overwhelmingly positive, but he doesn’t expect that treatment all the time this season.
“I’ve tried to mentally prepare myself for going on those road games,” Hamilton said. “There are going to be those people that have a few and lay into me a little bit.
“At the same time, knowing what I’ve been through and come from, I think I should be able to handle that fine.”