By Brian Lester
Billy Hamilton can provide a jolt of energy in a hurry to a baseball team.
His blazing speed turns heads and drops jaws, and while he wasn’t able to help the Pensacola Blue Wahoos earn a crucial victory Saturday night, the Cincinnati Reds star did give fans something to smile about in a 6-3 loss to the Mobile BayBears at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium.
Hamilton, in town for a three-day rehab assignment with the Reds’ Double-A affiliate as he recovers from a shoulder injury, wowed the sellout crowd of 5,038 when he chased down Evan Marzilli’s fly ball to the wall in centerfield in the first at-bat of the game.
Less than three hours after his plane touched down in Pensacola, Hamilton had his first highlight.
“I told Jesse (Winker) that I’m probably going to get the first ball hit to me,” Hamilton said. “I haven’t played in three weeks. I wasn’t expecting the ball to go that far or have to run that far, but one thing I love is playing defense. It’s one thing I’ve really improved on.”
As great as the play was, it was nothing compared to the highlight he provided in the fifth inning, coming home from first on a hit to right by Alex Blandino.
Hamilton sprinted around the bases, slowing up momentarily as he neared third before racing home for a run that cut Mobile’s lead to 6-2.
“I was confused at first because I thought they were going to hold me up. But they gave me the go. I haven’t run in three weeks. It felt good and ended up working out well.”
Hamilton managed one hit — he knocked the ball into center in the fifth moments before Blandino’s hit — and was able to take a step forward on his road back to Cincinnati. He has been on the disabled list since Aug. 19.
“He’s so fun to watch,” Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly said. “He runs that ball down in center and scoring from first is not too shabby either.”
Hamilton joined the team as the Blue Wahoos chase a Southern League playoff berth. They are 38-29 after Saturday’s loss but managed to maintain their half game lead in the South Division thanks to Jacksonville’s 4-1 win over Mississippi.
Two games are left in the regular season, starting with Sunday’s 4:05 p.m. game against Mobile. The finale is Monday. The Blue Wahoos are chasing their first playoff berth in the four-year history of the franchise, but with the loss, Mobile (35-31) also stays in the mix for the postseason.
“We have to keep plugging away,” Kelly said. “If we win the next two games, we’re in good shape.”
The Blue Wahoos fell behind 3-0 early and were down 6-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth. Tim Adleman took the loss, going 5 1/3 innings and giving up eight hits. He struck out two.
Pensacola nearly started a rally in the seventh when Blandino drilled a ball to the outfield. It hit the warning track and bounced over the wall. Zach Vincej scored and Hamilton was headed home but had to go back to third because the hit was ruled a ground rule double.
“There should be an exception for Billy,” Kelly said. “If he can score from first on a single, he should be able to score on a double.”
Still, Hamilton enjoyed his first game of the weekend in a city where he spent a half season three years ago. He racked up 155 stolen bases that year, splitting time in Bakersfield and Pensacola.
“It feels good to be back here where I played in the minors,” Hamilton said. “I got a great welcome. I was able to play a full nine innings. Overall, I felt good.”