When you think about young athletes that are blessed to be able to play the game of baseball, you never really think about what path they have taken to reach the levels they are in. You sometimes just take for granted and worry more about when will they actually make it to the big leagues. Some players are blessed to be able to have been signed right out of high school or college, others are signed at a young age from their native country and for a select few, the dreams of one day playing pro baseball may not seem as clear as it is to others. But when the opportunity actually does come knocking at their door, a whole new life is given and the opportunity that was once an after-thought actually becomes their reality.
When you think about the type of players that received second chances, Mets prospect, relief pitcher Hamilton Bennett comes to mind. Here is a ball player that had many hopes and dreams and the talent to play professional baseball, but because of situations in life, the opportunities faded away. But miracles do happen because when you think about a young man being dropped out of college, hanging with the wrong crowd, having to find a minimum wage job just to survive and no hope in his own mind to ever make it back to a baseball diamond, his story is truly an amazing one with an ending still be written.
Hamilton was selected by the Mets in the 29th round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Tennessee Wesleyan College. In 2010, he was sent to Brooklyn and as a reliever pitched in 49 games and posted a 2-2 record, with a 3.49 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 28.1 innings. In 2011, he was sent to Savannah and in 34 games was 2-0 with a 1.83 ERA, 14 saves, and 56 strikeouts in 54 innings. Hamilton was then promoted to St. Lucie and pitched in only one game in 2011, but remained with the team for the entire 2012 season and in 41 relief appearances was 7-2, a 2.55 ERA, and 54 strikeouts in 60 innings. In 2013, he pitched in 38 games for St. Lucie, posting a 3-0 record, a 1.96 ERA, with 9 saves and 48 strikeouts in 46 innings before being promoted to Binghamton and in 8 games with the B-Mets, Hamilton was 1-0, with a 1.49 ERA in 12.1 innings of work and recorded 12 strikeouts. He was then promoted to Las Vegas to help in their run for a championship and in Game 3 pitched 1/3 of an inning, recording an out and eventually getting the win. The 51’s did not advance to the next round of the playoffs, but it was an experience that Hamilton will never forget. “I was truly blessed to get the opportunity to go to Vegas…I was just happy to give our team a chance to win”, says Hamilton.
Hamilton was also a part of the group of B-Mets players that particpated in the Disability Dream and Do baseball camp and was blessed to be able to interact with the campers:
The Dave Clark camp was truly inspirational. Being around those children really opened my eyes. I was blown away with these children. With all they are going through and still be so happy and enjoy life really made me just enjoy what I have and be so thankful for all my blessings.
Having the opportunity to meet Hamilton and share his story is an honor for me. To chronicle this journey that he has been on and the uncertainty that he faced without ever knowing if he would throw in a baseball game again is truly inspiring. We never really know what drives a ball player, what motivates him to continue following his dreams, to be successful.
“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” – Booker T. Washington
A perfect quote leading into our conversation; Enjoy!!!
David – Is there something that you would like to share with the Mets fans that they do not already know about you? Your interests, hobbies outside of baseball?
Hamilton – When it comes to what I like to do other then baseball, I am a pretty laid back kind of guy. I enjoy all sports, so I am a big Carolina Panthers fan as well as a Charlotte Bobcats fan, soon to be Hornets. I enjoy going to the movies. I like all kinds of movies comedies,thrillers, horror it doesn’t really matter. I am a family guy so I talk to my parents as well as my siblings as much as I can.
David – I read that after a series of unfortunate events in your life, you gave up baseball, what eventually brought you back to the game you love? What was the turning point in your life?
Hamilton – I did lose baseball when I became academically ineligible and dropped out of Winthrop University. It was definitely a rough path in my life. I was working a normal 8-5 job where I was welding aluminum. I was making minimal wage and just really did not like where my life was taking me. I starting hanging out with the wrong people and that took my life down another path. Then I was invited to work a baseball camp, which I found out later was a christian camp, to make some money. I ended up finding the Lord and accepting him into my life. After this took place my one goal was to get back into school and try to play baseball again. I finally got a shot with Surry Community College to start my life over again. And the rest is history.
David – While playing in College, was there ever any doubt that you would get an opportunity to show you belong in pro baseball?
Hamilton –I had no clue that I would get the opportunity to play professional baseball, to be honest. Everybody grows up wanting to play baseball but I never imagined that it would happen to me. In my eyes I thought I was at a NAIA school there is no way someone was gonna see me. So I was focusing on doing the best I could and finish my degree in education.
David – In 2010, while playing at Tennessee Wesleyan College, you were the 20th player in NAIA history to throw a perfect game, can you share what was going through your mind the whole game and after it was over? Have you ever been that dominate in your career?
Hamilton – The perfect game was by far the highlight of my career. We were playing UVA-Wise and we were trying to finish the conference in first place so I just wanted to give the team an opportunity to win. I started to realize what was going on in about the forth inning when my teammates would not talk to me and they tried to avoid me. So I was going up to them cracking jokes so everyone would relax. The final inning was intense I was absolutely exhausted and was running on straight adrenaline. I got the first two outs and the finally batter came up and with the first pitch he took for a strike. The second pitch he tried to push bunt and it justed rolled foul. I then throw a ball about 10 feet high. With the final pitch I threw a fastball that was just a little bit outside but the umpire gave it to me for strike three. It was an amazing feeling everybody rushed me and we had a dog pile on the mound then the coach gave me the line up card and the game ball. The best thing about the whole thing was the fact that my dad could be there and watch the whole game.
David – Did you have a favorite player growing up and if so, did you model your game after him?
Hamilton – I did have role models when I was growing up playing. Being from Tega Cay, SC, I grew up a Braves fan and being a Braves fan in the 90s was a lot of fun. They had the original big three with Tom Glavine, Gregg Maddox, and John Smoltz. I took a lot from all three. Mechanically, and being left handed, I modeled myself after Glavine. I learned how to pitch from Maddox since I’ve never been the “flame thrower” and Smolz taught me that no matter what role I am in to just say yes sir and do it. So all of them were my role models and I could not be more thankful for all of them
David – Who was a most influential person for you in your College career?
Hamilton – The most influential person in my college career would have to be my pitching coach at Tennessee Wesleyan. His name is John Hendrix and he gave me the opportunity to continue playing my career when no one else did. He then taught me how to get the most out of myself and pushed me to my limit many times. There was many people that helped but he would be the most influential
David – On the day that you were drafted by the Mets in 2010; where were you when you received the news? Can you describe what was going through your mind and who was the first person you called?
Hamilton – On the day of the draft I was in Winchester Virginia, playing for the Winchester Royals in a summer league. I pitched the day before, so it was tradition that I had to do the play by play for the radio. Afterwards, I went into the locker room to check my phone and had about 20 missed calls and about 20 text messages from everybody. So I thought something had to either be wrong with my mom or dad and then begun to panic. I checked my voice mails and the first few were from my college teammates and they all said the same thing congrats, you did it, we are proud of you. So I thought they were playing a prank on me. After doing some research I finally found out that the Mets drafted me and I was so surprised and happy all at the same time. I then tried to call my biggest fan, my dad, but being it was around 11p.m. he was asleep. Then I tried to call my mom and she did not pick up. So I had all this excitement with no one to share it with. Then my mom finally called me back as well as my dad.
David – In 2010, you played your first pro baseball season with the Brooklyn Cyclones, what was the experience like and how can you compare it to playing in college?
Hamilton – Brooklyn was absolutely amazing. It was definitely a culture shock. Coming from a very small school to Brooklyn NY was interesting. I believe the cyclones get more people to one game then my college had all together. So it was fun. The people were amazing and made me want to become a Met even more. Everyone is so passionate about baseball and I made friends that I still talk to just from playing in Brooklyn. But it was not all roses. I was turned into a reliever which took time for me to adjust as well as getting use to a professional strike zone and baseballs. So it was definitely a learning curve but I wouldn’t have changed a minute of it.
David – While playing in Brooklyn, they created the “Hamilton Bennett Mustache Mayhem Night”, what did you think about having your own promotion and entertainment night at the ball park?
Hamilton – The mustache mayhem night was amazing. I believe my mustache is getting more attention then I am, but its ok. I did not get to pitch but that would have been icing on the cake. I was proud that my mustache and I got this opportunity and had a lot of fun with the fans and teammates.
David – I read that your thick mustache was more because of you wanting to resemble Tom Selleck? How much of that is actually true and is your mustache that thick?
Hamilton – I do have a very thick mustache. I wouldn’t compare it to Tom Selleck, who does have a great mustache by the way, it has its own glory. I was hoping to get the Rollie Fingers look but unfortunately I can’t grow one like his so I had to make it my own. Which I believe I have done.
David – In a recent conversation with me, you mentioned that they call you the “Mayor”, what is the reasoning behind the nickname?
Hamilton – The nickname “mayor” came from my teammates. I enjoy what I do and I am not afraid to show it. So I walk out to the game about 20 minutes before everyone else and sign autographs, talk to the season ticket holders, and anyone else who wants to talk. I have met some great men and women from Brooklyn to Vegas. So my teammates call me the mayor because I am very fan friendly. And who knows maybe a few years after my playing years I might just run for mayor somewhere.
David – In your brief pro ball career, you have done well in the closer’s role, is that where you feel most comfortable or how would you like to be used out of the bullpen?
Hamilton – To be honest I just want an opportunity to play in the big leagues. I do like being a closer. The feeling of had the crowds cheer or boo really gets your adrenaline pumping. And being the guy that everyone counts on to go 1, 2, 3 in the last inning is a true honor. But I am willing to do whatever role the Mets want me to do to give us the best chance to win.
David – Which part of your game do you think improved the most from 2012? What part do you feel you need to put more work into?
Hamilton – This past season I made some adjustments mechanically which really helped me get the downward angle that I am looking for. This downward angle helped my velocity become more consistent. I also made huge strides with my change up. Its never been one of my better pitches but this past year I made a grip change and it helped me throw it more often. I definitely have a few things I need to work on. I’m working on another out pitch to go along with my curveball to help me be more consistent on getting right handed hitters out. As well as just polish my other pitches and become more comfortable to be able to throw them at any time and in any situation.
David – You started out 2013 with St Lucie and then you were promoted to the B Mets and joined in on their playoff run, what did it mean for you to be a part of a team making history?
Hamilton – It was an honor to be apart of the great team in Binghamton. I knew a lot of the players from previous years so I did not have the awkward, who’s the new guy, phase. It was neat to learn from guys like Jeff Walters, Chase Huchingson, and Adam Kolarek on the difference between high A and double A. They definitely helped me prepare for AA and I’m truly grateful
David – After your 2013 season ended with the B-Mets, you were promoted to Las Vegas to help in their championship run? Can you describe the feeling of not just being promoted, but getting the win in a pivotal Game 3?
Hamilton – I was truly blessed to get the opportunity to go to Vegas. When arriving I was just trying to enjoy being there. I never dreamed of pitching when I saw who was in their bullpen, guys like Justin Hampson, Robert Carson, Jack Leathersich, and D.J. Mitchell. I was just trying to learn and enjoy my time there. When I heard my name to get loose the butterflies definitely kicked in. I haven’t been that nervous since pitching in the NAIA World Series. Then I entered the game. Tied ballgame with a runner on second and two outs. OOO BOY!! I tried to calm down the best I could but to no avail. After falling behind 3-0 I just focused on throwing a strike and not worry about where it went. Then threw two strikes in a row and on the final pitch the batter grounded out to short stop. Then in the bottom half of the inning we scored and I eventually got the win. Which was icing on the cake. I was just happy to give our team a chance to win.
David – What teammate has impressed you the most this season, and who should Mets fans be most excited about seeing in the future?
Hamilton – I can not say to look for one particular person due to how strong the Mets minor league system is. There is so much talent that a lot of the guys are gonna be given opportunities. Its going to be fun to be a Met in the next couple of years.
David – Is there a Met manager or coach who has made an impact in your approach to the game and helped elevate your performance?
Hamilton – Phil Regan aka “The Vulture” means the world to me. I spent almost two years with him as my pitching coach and he has helped me mentally and physically. He has been there through the good times and the bad and has always supported me. I cant thank him enough for everything he has done. Don’t get me wrong there are many managers and coaches that have done a lot for me but Phil definitely stands out.
David – You have had success in your career in the minors; do you feel like you are on track with the goals you set for yourself? If so, what are you expecting for 2014?
Hamilton – I definitely feel like I am on track with my goals. My main goal is to keep moving up and so far that’s what I have been doing. So I am excited to see what the Lord holds for me for 2014. I just have to keep working hard and do the best I can possibly do to try and make it to Citi Field.
David – Moving forward, what stands between you and the big leagues? What do you specifically need to work on as a player, and improve upon, in order to be ready to compete on the big stage?
Hamilton – Personally I think I am ready for the big leagues right now, but I know that is not the case. I have to become more consistent with all of my pitches and then I have to wait for the opportunity to come. Once it comes I have to make the best of it and if the Lord intends it to happen then I will make the best of it.
David – When the off-season arrives, what do you look forward to doing the most? Family time, friends time, or just rest?
Hamilton – The beginning of the off-season is crazy. You have been away for so long you want to do so much. Hang out with your friends, be with your family, and sleep. When I got back I spent time with my family right away. Then spent time with some friends. I rest as much as possible because in a couple months it starts all over again.
David – How will you prepare over the winter; can you describe your workout regimen?
Hamilton – My work out schedule is pretty tough. I try not to do to much till around Oct 20. Then I begin to work out with legs and core, trying to avoid my upper body to give it more rest, since it went through a lot. Then around Thanksgiving is when I start doing upper body stuff as well as my lower body. Then I will go down to spring training around Feb 1 to be with our coaches and get on their schedule.
Thank you Hamilton for allowing me to share such an amazing and inspiring story. I know that with each interview that I have done, Mets fans have to be getting even more excited about what the Farm teams have to offer. Hamilton is another player worth watching and very shortly he will find himself finally reaching the pinnacle point in his career when he makes his major league debut. He is a very good young player with a great outlook on life that will take him farther than he could ever imagine. I look forward to watching his career and anxiously waiting on the day when he is donning the Mets uniform at Citi Field.
(Photo Credits – Dave Clark Foundation, BrooklynCyclones.com)