Think about this for a second.
The Reds played a crucial baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals last night. Only one run was scored and it was by Billy Hamilton.
As most every Reds’ fan knows by now, Billy Hamilton is one of the top prospects in the Reds’ organization. He was converted from shortstop to center field with the thought that he would take over there as early as 2014. Hamilton has set the all-time minor league record for stolen bases in a season. He was called up on Monday when rosters were allowed to expand. Last night was the first time Billy Hamilton had appeared in a major league game.
As Ryan Ludwick’s leadoff single landed softly in center field in the bottom of the seventh last night, Billy Hamilton’s name crossed my mind. I said it aloud to no one but myself. So when he appeared from the dugout about a hundred feet front of me, I wasn’t caught by surprise. Still, it was a little breathtaking.
The Cardinals pitching coach visited the mound after Ludwick’s single, so Hamilton had a moment at first base to stretch. It looked like he asked the first base umpire if he could run up and down the line a bit during this time out.
When the fans across GABP realized what was happening they began to rise to their feet. When Hamilton’s name was announced as a pinch runner, the standing ovation became complete. Amazingly, the fans, at least the ones around me, didn’t sit down when the game resumed.
They remained standing to witness a pinch runner attempt a stolen base. Everyone in the park, including and especially the Cardinals, knew what was coming. After Seth Maness attempted a few pick-off attempts (only the first was close), Hamilton took off and successfully stole second base. It was on the first pitch of his major league career.
A group of maybe a dozen fans sitting in the right field bleachers held up large signs that together formed the words “Run Billy Run.”
Maybe aided by the distraction provided by the base runner dancing around second base, Todd Frazier delivered a sharp double down the left field line and Billy Hamilton scored the game’s only run — easily. Like everyone else, I suppose, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Even though he slowed down once it was apparent there would be no play at the plate, you could tell he was super-fast.
[Full disclosure, and not to be my own buzz kill, but I’m on record as being skeptical of the net value that players like Hamilton add to a major league club. No power. Average fielder. Unproven-to-mediocre OBP skills. Only a tiny number of players matching that description (maybe Vince Coleman and that’s it) have provided substantial net value over a career. I’ll take a guy like Shin-Soo Choo, who will hit 20 home runs a year and get on base at a .380+ clip each and every time over a player who may not hit a home run but can steal a truckload or two of bases. Willy Taveras. The old-school guys love speedy players who “create havoc” when they get on base. I’m just not a fan of those one-dimensional players.]
My usher, who has worked for the Reds for over 30 years (he has the second-most seniority as an usher), commented that it would have been more exciting if Hamilton had been forced to score from first. And he was certainly right.
Still, there was something deeply satisfying about the notion that Hamilton could enter the game with a single, obvious purpose and accomplish it. Against the St. Louis Cardinals and Yadier Molina, the best defensive catcher of our generation.
There are two things I really love about this 90-second video that covers the Billy Hamilton Moment.
The first is that it starts with Ludwick’s hit that set-up Hamilton’s pinch-running cameo and also includes Frazier’s double that plated the run.
My second favorite part occurs at the 49-second mark, where Molina cracks a broad smile as he puts on his catching mask.
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.