Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fastest Man in Baseball

"Willie Mays Hayes. I play like Mays, and I run like Hayes" - Willie Mays Hayes, Major League 

Now it all makes sense. There had to be something that goads Billy Hamilton into doing everything fast. He talks quicker than John Moschitta Jr.. He eats with breeziness that would make Joey Chestnut blush. And when he runs – well, let's just say Billy Hamilton may run the bases faster than any baseball player in history, Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders included.

"It's the Dew," Hamilton said.

That's right. Forget the amphetamines, the 5-Hour Energy, the Monster, the Red Bull and every other dignity-sucking energy drink. Hamilton kicks it '90s old school. He pounds Mountain Dew like he's a Silicon Valley newbie on a coding bender. And with 104 stolen bases already this season for Bakersfield, the Cincinnati Reds' Class-A affiliate, he is riding the Yellow #5 wave to breaking the single-season stolen-base record in organized ball, Vince Coleman's 145 for Class-A Macon in 1983.

"There's something about Mountain Dew that gets me amped up," Hamilton said. "I feel like if I drink Mountain Dew, everything in my body gets ready to go. It helps me steal bases. Even the coaches will bring it to me."

Just for fun, Hamilton and Mattair once raced. Hamilton won. Running backward. In spring training, Hamilton, a switch hitter, gapped a ball for an inside-the-park home run that a trainer clocked at 13.9 seconds. Last year, Peter Bourjos, who may be the fastest player in the major leagues, circled the bases in 14.02 seconds.

The stories are told with such certainty they're almost apocryphal. There may not be a player with a tool commensurate to Hamilton's speed – not Bryce Harper's power, not Rick Ankiel's arm, not Brendan Ryan's glove, not Justin Verlander's fastball, not even Mariano Rivera's cutter.

The scouting scale goes from 20 to 80, and Gose, the Toronto Blue Jays center fielder on the short list of the game's speediest behind Hamilton, grades out as an 80.

"If I'm an 80," Gose said, "that means he's a 100."

Hamilton said he never realized how fast he was until he joined the Reds as a second-round pick out of Taylorsville, Miss., in 2009. Everyone from his hometown was fast, he said. He tried to muscle up and hit home runs, even though at 5-foot-11 and 150 pounds they didn't exactly come easy. The Reds figured he would grow into his strengths, and even after struggling to keep his batting average above .200 well into last season, he still stole 103 bases.

His manager then, Delino DeShields, stole 463 bases in the major leagues and tutored Hamilton on technique. And his manager this year, Ken Griffey Sr., tried to break Hamilton of his go-go-go ethos.

"It's in my head to go every pitch," Hamilton said. "I know I can use my speed and get away with things. I need to be smarter about it."


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