Hamilton follows (fast) Cool Papa's steps

I hope many of you read Brother Rogers’ guest blog on the great Cool Papa Bell on this site recently. In my opinion, we may be watching the development of the next Cool Papa in Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton.

As Rogers put it, Cool Papa Bell ran from Starkville to the Baseball Hall of Fame (and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, which resides, by the way, on Cool Papa Bell Drive right off Lakeland Avenue).

Time will tell but Hamilton might well have those same destinations in his future. He would appear to be on the fast track. And with Hamilton, as it was with Bell, it is a very fast track.

Bell once stole 175 bases in a 200-game season in the old Negro Leagues. Last season, Hamilton 155 bases in only 132 games in high-A and Class AA in the Cincinnati Reds organization. Currently, he is a non-roster player in the Major League camp of the Reds. The plan is for him to start the season at Class AAA Louisville. We shall see.

This is the most important spring in Hamilton’s young life. He is making the move from shortstop to center field, at least partly because the Reds already have former Ole Miss star Zach Cozart at shortstop. Plus, the Reds just believe that Hamilton’s speed — and he without question the fastest man in baseball — can be put to better use in centerfield.

The early returns are good. Former Reds star Eric Davis, who once made the same transition himself, has been Hamilton’s off-season mentor and has told reporters that Hamilton “is taking to it like a duck to water.”

But it is a huge adjustment. Speed works two ways in center field. If you break in the wrong direction, you are going the wrong way at warp speed, kind of like stealing first base from second.. Like anything in baseball, playing center field takes time and repetition. Hamilton just needs to play.

That’s why he’ll probably at least start the season in Louisville. The Reds acquired Shin-Soo Choo from the Indians to be their center fielder and leadoff hitter this season. Choo becomes a free agent after this season, allowing for Hamilton, a switch-hitter, to be the opening day center fielder in 2014.

The ceiling for Hamilton is way, way up there. Remember, just four years ago, he was a three-sport whiz at Taylorsville High, the best player in the state in not only baseball, but also football and basketball. Bulldog fans will remember he signed with State to play football.

The point is, he never concentrated on just baseball until his graduation from Taylorsville High. He has probably played half as many baseball games as your normal 22-year-old baseball phenom. This much is certain: His future will be fun to watch.

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