Remembering Superman (Hamilton)

The last time these eyes saw Taylorsville native Billy Hamilton, he was playing basketball, not baseball, and he was stealing balls, not bases. This was Feb. 24, 2009, at Mississippi Coliseum.The headline on my next day’s column read: “Sometimes even Superman loses.”

Billy Hamilton was Superman that day. Apparently, he still is.

Surely, you’ve seen the news about how Hamilton, playing for the Class AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos, has broken Vince Coleman’s record and become the all-time single season stolen base king of professional baseball. He had stolen 147 going into Wednesday night’s game. If the Cincinnati Reds don’t call him up before then, he will put that speed on display at Trustmark Park beginning Friday night when the Wahoos come to Pearl for a five-game series.

Hamilton, you will remember, was all-state in three sports at Taylorsville. He might have been the state’s best player in three sports. He certainly was the quickest and the fastest.

Here’s one passage from that column of of three years ago: “In what sadly might have been the last basketball game he will ever play, Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton did everything Tuesday – everything, that is, except win. Hamilton, as quick and fast as any hoops player these eyes have seen, scored 39 points, passed out nine assists, grabbed six rebounds and had a personal hand in 59 of his team’s 70 points. Coahoma County nevertheless managed a 74-70 victory over Taylorsville in the opening round of the State Class 2ATournament.”

Here’s another passage:

“Yes, Hamilton has the skills to play high level Division I basketball. He quite possibly could develop the skills to play in the NBA. That’s primarily because he has two skills you cannot teach: uncommon quickness and speed. He was the fastest player on the floor even when he was dribbling the basketball. But – and what a huge but this is – Hamilton also possesses the skill set to become an NFL wide receiver or cornerback or a Major League Baseball middle infielder or center fielder.”

Mississippi State fans surely will remember that Hamilton had signed a letter of intent to play football (and baseball) for the Bulldogs.

Another passage from that column: “Frankly, Hamilton might never play any sport at dear ol’ State. That’s because some big league baseball team is likely to choose him in the early rounds and offer him enough money to buy half of Taylorsville.”

Hamilton said as much after his last basketball game. “Right now, my future pretty much depends on the baseball draft,” he said. “I hate to think about this being my last basketball game ever, but it could be.”

Turns out the Reds drafted him in the second round and signed for what now seems like a modest bonus of $675,000.

Former Ole Miss basketball standout Rahim Lockhart, who coached Hamilton at Taylorsville, told me he figured Hamilton was going to take the baseball money. “Baseball’s his first love,” Lockhart said. “Billy just loves to compete and you play more games in baseball.”

Lockhart told the story about a spring day in 2008 when he took his Taylorsville team to play in a basketball jamboree in Jones County.

“We played four games in one day and Billy got 40 or 50 in every game,” Lockhart said. “The baseball team had a doubleheader that night in Magee, so I drove him over for that. He called on his cell phone and found out the game was tied in the late innings. He said, ‘Coach, we gotta hurry. We can make the end of the first game, and I can win it.’

“So, we drive up and he changes into his baseball uniform, runs out there and immediately pinch-hits. I’m not lying, here comes the first pitch and he hits a game-winning home run.”

Three years later, the legend of Billy Hamilton still grows. Some folks are starting to call him the fastest player in baseball history, but from this vantage point on Cool Papa Bell Drive I can only imagine about a race we’ll never see: Starkville native Cool Papa Bell vs. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton. Some media folks have been searching for a nickname for Billy Hamilton.

With a nod to history, I humbly suggest: Cool Papa Billy.

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