July 13, 2012 7:24 p.m.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning of a scoreless tie and he had already stolen second and third base. Now he could almost feel the pull of home plate.
The batter popped up weakly; the second baseman retreated slightly to make an easy over-the-shoulder catch.
That’s when Hamilton improbably broke for home, scoring the winning run without a tag.
“I’d never seen that one before,” said Bakersfield Blaze Manager Ken Griffey, who has been in professional baseball for almost 40 years.
Up in the broadcast booth, Blaze announcer Dan Besbris was dumbfounded. “A man is just not supposed to score from third on a pop up to the second baseman,” he said.
But no one is quite like Billy Hamilton on the basepaths, so fast he has 104 stolen bases — the most in professional baseball.
Once baseball was filled with marvelous base stealers. Legends such as Maury Wills, Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson. But in the ’90s, the art of the stolen base gave way to the power game of sluggers boosted by performance-enhancing supplements.
It’s been 25 years since the last major leaguer, Henderson, stole 100 bases in a season.
Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon currently leads the major leagues with 30 stolen bases, a pace that would put him just shy of 57 for a full season.
After 82 games in the minor leagues, Hamilton was on pace to swipe 163, which would obliterate the baseball record of 145 set by Vince Coleman in 1983 for Class-A Macon in the South Atlantic League.
Hamilton has been such an unstoppable force on the bases that he’ll now have to pursue the single-season steals record in double A. On Tuesday he was promoted to the Reds affiliate in the Southern League, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.
Bakersfield’s rivals in the California League will miss the excitement Hamilton brings to the game, but not the havoc his speed and daring create.
“You just really can’t stop this kid,” Lake Elsinore hitting coach David Newhan said. “He’ll get a lead as far as you’ve ever seen and he’ll get back standing up or easily diving. And then when he decides to go, it’s over.
“We have a kid, Rico Noel, who has the second-most stolen bases in baseball — he’s got 61 — and he’s almost getting lapped by this guy. It’s silly.”
Hamilton is a 21-year-old shortstop from Taylorsville, population 1,340 in southern Mississippi. He was chosen in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft in 2009, turning down a scholarship to play wide receiver at Mississippi State.
At Taylorsville High, he was no great threat on the bases.
using the number/letter grid:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z
A = 1 J = 1 S = 1
B = 2 K = 2 T = 2
C = 3 L = 3 U = 3
D = 4 M = 4 V = 4
E = 5 N = 5 W = 5
F = 6 O = 6 X = 6
G = 7 P = 7 Y = 7
H = 8 Q = 8 Z = 8
I = 9 R = 9
his primary challenge = BH = 28 = Unstoppable. Hero.
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