With Hamilton, impossible quickly becomes reality
Billy Hamilton is fast. I mean, he is really fast. Hamilton is so fast that even though he barely has finished a month in the Major Leagues as the leadoff hitter, center fielder and 23-year-old blur of a rookie for the Reds, he's already considered the running version of Roy Hobbs, Crash Davis, Willie Mays Hayes and T-Rex Pennebaker times Chet "Rocket" Steadman.
Those baseball wonders were fictional, but Hamilton is real.
I'm guessing Hamilton is real. Then again, only Dr. Seuss or the Disney people could concoct a player who could go from first to third on a dribbler back to the pitcher -- yes, the pitcher -- or score from third on a grounder to the third baseman, or wait for somebody to make a catch in the shallowest part of right field before tagging and sliding safely into home.
There was also Tuesday night in Cincinnati, where Hamilton did the ho-hum by his standards. He opened the bottom of the first against the Cubs with a walk, stole second, reached third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly. Hamilton later managed two infield hits, made a diving catch in center and hit a game-tying home run along the way to a 3-2 victory for the Reds.
Game after game, Hamilton uses his slight frame of 6-feet and 160 pounds to churn his legs quickly enough to turn "impossible" into just another word.
So how fast is this guy?
"I don't do times," Hamilton said, always responding in tones ranging from soft to softer than that.
To say that Hamilton is modest is to say he is pretty fast. So despite his gifted legs, he said he never has wished to know how swiftly he could run the 40-yard dash. Hamilton also said he couldn't care less if he is challenging or surpassing Mickey Mantle's historically accepted record of going from home plate to first base in 3.1 seconds while batting left-handed.
The switch-hitting Hamilton shrugged, while looking slightly uneasy for not having answers about the official nature of his speed.
"Maybe you can ask one of the coaches. They do times," Hamilton said. "I don't know. I don't keep up with anything like that, because it really doesn't mean anything to me. One time, you can run this time. Another time, you can run that time."
Then another time, you can surpass the sound barrier. No big deal -- at least not for this affable kid from Taylorsville, Miss., where every citizen could fit into the left-field bleachers at Great American Ball Park (capacity around 2,300) with room to spare. As for the rest of the world, Hamilton's speed is a huge deal. Let's start with some of his predecessors of yore on the bases. Rickey Henderson had more than a few "wow" moments. So did Ty Cobb, Lou Brock, Vince Coleman and Deion Sanders, known as Prime Time for a reason.
It's just that Hamilton is flirting with sprinting past everybody in that group and beyond to become the most exciting baserunner of all time, and I'm talking about by the All-Star break.
Take it from Rob Butcher. After I asked the longtime Reds media relations director to describe the most unbelievable thing he has witnessed so far from Hamilton regarding his speed, Butcher said, "To be honest, he has done so many of those things that they are becoming routine."
That's scary. No, that's Hamilton. All I know is that nobody goes from first to third on a grounder … back to the pitcher.
Nobody but Hamilton. He did it a couple of weeks ago in Pittsburgh.
"Me and the manager [Bryan Price] talked right before that series, and he said he wanted me to be more aggressive, to make things happen. And that's right up my alley, that's part of my game," said Hamilton, who promptly executed the game plan during his first at-bat.
While easing away from first base after getting plunked by a pitch from the Pirates' Francisco Liriano, Hamilton saw Joey Votto hit a tapper back to Liriano, who promptly threw to first. But it wasn't promptly enough to keep Hamilton from running to third.
Moments later, the Reds' Brandon Phillips ripped a sharp grounder to third as Hamilton charged toward the plate.
He beat the throw.
"I have great baseball instincts," Hamilton said. "I know something in my head [tells me to go]. I feel it, and I never think twice. I knew I was going to run the whole time. I knew I could get a good jump, but it's one of those things you never know what might happen."
Which brings us to Hamilton's Pop Fly Miracle. This was the stuff of Mother Goose, because nobody scores on a pop fly. In fact, nobody even attempts to do so. Yet there was Hamilton, standing on third and studying a pop fly drifting more toward deep second base than shallow right field.
Again, without hesitation, Hamilton tagged and scored.
What was up with that?
"We needed something to get going, so I wanted to do whatever I could to get all of us going together," Hamilton said. "I saw the second baseman going back on the ball, and I had it in my head that I had chance to score, especially since he was going backward. But then the right fielder got it, but I had it in my head the whole time that I had to go no matter what happened. So I had that chance, and I just made it happen."
It happens often for Hamilton … and swiftly.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.