Nick Hamilton: Grown up dreams
Born and raised an Indians fan in Avon Lake, OH, Nick Hamilton now has one of the most unique perspectives of the Indians.
Hamilton, 22, grew up admiring the teams of the 90’s. He was six years young when the Tribe went to the World Series in ’95, right around the time his father was working as the color man for Herb Score. Hamilton’s father, of course, is the great radio voice of the Tribe, Tom Hamilton.
More so than any player in the organization, Hamilton has lineage to both Cleveland and the franchise as a whole. Much like diehard Tribe fans, he was young and passionate witnessing World Series gone wrong, a change in ownership from Jacobs to the Dolan's, and exchanges like Justice for Westbrook and Jacobs Field for Progressive Field.
Hamilton grew up watching everyone from Baerga and Vizquel to Belliard and Peralta, from Hershiser and Nagy to Sabathia and Lee, from Lawton and Burks to Choo and Sizemore. Much like any young kid, it was his dream to play professional baseball for the organization he grew up rooting for, especially considering his father had been the soundtrack for that very team for over 23 years.
Hamilton played three years of varsity baseball at Avon Lake High School then began his collegiate baseball career at Xavier University. However, it was an abbreviated stay as he transferred to Kent State for his sophomore season after racking up just two at-bats for Xavier as a freshman. After transferring to Kent, his playing time was scarce as his teammate Travis Shaw - the Red Sox 9th round selection in 2011 - got the bulk of playing time.
Both Hamilton’s patience and perseverance would truly pay off. This past season was the red-shirt junior’s first year as a full-time starter. He responded with a fantastic season at Kent State batting .337 and at one point during the season was 5th in the nation in hitting.
After a sweet ride through the College World Series this year his Golden Flashes eventually fell late in the tournament to South Carolina. Shortly thereafter, a new chapter began for him as the 22-year old officially signed a contract with the Indians after being selected in the 35th round of the ‘12 draft a few weeks earlier.
“The first month and a half in the organization has been great, being able to play baseball every day—you can’t ask for anything more,” Hamilton told the IPI. “I’m awfully blessed to have this opportunity.”
At Avon Lake, Hamilton primarily played third base and pitched. Then in college, Hamilton’s role expanded.
“When I played in the past, I played almost anywhere on the diamond but pitcher and catcher," Hamilton said. "Here, I’m just taking it one day at a time, just anywhere they need me to go is fine by me.”
The versatile Hamilton just wants to play every day. He got semi-regular reps for the Arizona League Indians this season, playing in 17 games over the month and a half he was in Arizona, though with a 35 man roster, playing time was hard to come by for most anyone on the team. When he played he primarily played first base and third base and also played some corner outfield. When he did play - despite a .240 average - he showed a keen eye at the plate as he drew more walks than strikeouts and finished the season with a .387 OBP in the short season.
Each game Hamilton goes into, he focuses on new aspects of his game to improve on, though defense is a consistent project.
“I work on a little bit of everything each day," Hamilton noted. "You don’t want to just go into every day saying I’m going to try harder, but I definitely focus on my footwork defensively. It really translates to every single position, so obviously having good footwork is imperative.”
At 22, Hamilton was one of the older players in the AZL. Nonetheless, the Kent State product surely has room to improve his game considering he really only had one college season as a full-time starter and has shown an ability to get on base and play all over the field. His open mind and ability to adjust are positives as he looks to advance his game.
“I just try to learn from our coaches and soak it all in,” he said.
Soaking in the coaching has been an aspect Hamilton has surely capitalized on. In the middle of July, the Indians sent some of their higher ups to Arizona and Infielder Coordinator Travis Fryman was among them. Hamilton frequently picked the brain of Fryman in between at bats and innings on both the defensive and offensive side of the game, picking up various nuances of third base and hitting in general.
“Travis was a guy I looked up to—it was really neat to have him [in Arizona] working with us infielders, it was neat having a guy there that has played at the highest level,” Hamilton affirmed. “In talking to Travis, he is such a good guy to take tips from, especially considering I was able to watch him for so many years. It’s been great.”
Hamilton describes himself as an Indians “die-hard” and like many Indians fans adored a lot of the players from the 90s.
“My idols growing up were really Carlos Baerga—that’s the reason I switch hit—as well as Kenny Lofton and Charles Nagy," Hamilton said. "Obviously they were great players and I just latched on to the way they play the game.”
Hamilton picked a good trio of high baseball IQ players to admire as interestingly enough, all three of them have stuck around baseball in some shape or form. Nagy now serves as the Arizona Diamondbacks pitching coach, while Lofton and Baerga both have served as guest instructors for the Indians in spring training in the last few years.
Hamilton also confirmed he talked to his dad each day about his early chapters of pro baseball in Arizona this summer. The father and son tandem were able to catch up in mid-August as the major league club made its west coast swing to California. On a day off in the middle of the trip, Tom Hamilton was able to catch an AZL game.
Tom Hamilton got a sight he likely had not seen since Nick was a young kid; Nick was not wearing the maroon and gold of his Avon Lake High School team, nor was he wearing the blue and gold of Kent. Instead, he was wearing the navy blue and red colors he had been wearing as a child growing up. He was in a Cleveland Indians jersey playing pro baseball.
Nick Hamilton is the type of player to run out every ground ball at full speed, give quality at-bats, play fundamental baseball and the type of player you want on your team. From his perseverance on the field in getting playing time at Kent then making the most of it, to his determination off the diamond as he battled through nine ear surgeries with the fear of being completely deaf, Hamilton is a hard worker in everything he does and is grateful for his shot with the Tribe.
“It’s been a blessing to have this opportunity here,” he said.
Hopefully one day, Tom Hamilton will be looking down on the diamond from his radio booth and set the scene for listeners as his son Nick steps to the plate in the bigs.