Hamilton refused to give up on dream
Kent State DH overcomes hearing loss to get drafted by Indians
Millions of young boys across the nation grow up idolizing Major League Baseball players with hopes of beating the odds and one day playing America’s pastime at the professional level.
Kent State’s Nick Hamilton is certainly used to beating the odds to achieve what he wants. When he was three years old, he was diagnosed with a rare condition that caused him to lose his hearing.
|HAMILTON'S 2012 SEASON STATS|
|Stats through June 7, 2012|
“It’s actually a very rare condition – I don’t even know the name of it,” Hamilton said. “The surgery that was done on me was an experimental surgery and is still considered that. It stopped the hearing loss and kept it where it’s at today.”
For Hamilton, his boyhood idols were the Cleveland Indians, but they were also the guys at his dad’s “office”. Hamilton’s father Tom has served as the Indians’ radio play-by-play announcer for the past 23 years.
“It was a lot of fun to be around it when I was a kid,” Nick Hamilton said. “To be able to have that hands-on access every once in while was a thrill. I’m proud of my dad and what he does.”
Tom Hamilton definitely passed his love of baseball to Nick, and it is a bonding point between them, and the entire Hamilton family.
“It’s what I love to do – play baseball and watch it,” Nick Hamilton said. “It’s really my passion. Being able to bounce ideas off of him or ask for his advice is great.”
“It is certainly a bonus that he loves the game as much as I do,” Tom Hamilton said. “It makes it special. There certainly is always a common ground there, even if you’re going through tough stretches. It has been a remarkable journey.”
Hamilton fondly remembers many of the players who his father talked about, most notably Charles Nagy and Kenny Lofton.
“I actually wear No. 7 because of Kenny Lofton,” Nick Hamilton said. “He’s one of those guys who played the right way, and Charlie worked really hard, too. They were all about winning and all about the game. They were exciting players, especially Kenny with his speed. Even though I don’t run like him, I certainly looked up to him and really any player that played for the Indians.”
Hamilton wears hearing aids in both ears, but shuts one off when he steps into the batter’s box because it helps with the feedback noise. He says all he needs to hear is the umpire calling balls and strikes when he is at bat.
“I can’t hear anything when I take them out,” Nick Hamilton said. “It’s definitely good I am able to hear with them and talk, and I’m awfully blessed they caught it in time and were able to do something about it.”
More blessings came Hamilton’s way recently.
After an incredible weekend which began with Kent State winning the program’s first NCAA Regional title got even better on Wednesday. Hamilton’s little-boy dreams of playing professionally came one step closer to fruition as Cleveland selected him in the 35th round of the MLB First-Player Draft.
“It’s been Christmas morning every day,” Tom Hamilton said.
But those accomplishments have not come without perseverance over and above Nick Hamilton’s hearing loss. He attended Xavier in his first season, getting just two at bats in the 2009 season. He decided to transfer to Kent State to be closer to the family’s home in Avon Lake, and redshirted in his second year. Last season, he sat behind Travis Shaw – last year’s ninth-round draft pick by the Boston Red Sox – only getting 22 at bats.
However, the hard-working, energetic Hamilton was not discouraged. After very limited opportunities to prove himself in his first three years of collegiate baseball, Hamilton has put together a stellar year for the Golden Flashes. He is batting .364 with 35 RBI and 20 runs scored, and has played an integral part on a team that lost several top players from the previous year.
“We lost a lot of key contributors from last year’s team and we really needed every single guy in the lineup to step up,” head coach Scott Stricklin said. “Nick has been such a pleasant surprise. He’s a good player, but I don’t know if any of us expected him to swing the bat the way he has. He’s been really consistent for us all year, and has had a phenomenal year at the plate.”
“He’s one of those kids who always seem to find a way to get it done,” Tom Hamilton said. “His determination and work ethic are off the charts. I’ve seen him overcome challenge after challenge, and I’ve seen people doubt whether or not he could accomplish something. It is a true motivator for him. If you tell him he can’t do something, then you better sit back and watch. He didn’t have a job when the season started, and he went out there and won it by playing well.”
When Stricklin recruited the youngster in high school, he did not know about Hamilton’s hearing impairment.
“On the baseball field, if it wasn’t pointed out to you, you would never know until you see the hearing aids,” Stricklin said. “We talked to him on the phone and he talks on the phone just fine. I didn’t realize it until I saw his hearing aids.”
Hamilton has learned to adjust after years of experience playing baseball with the disability, and it does not affect him on the field very often.
“It comes into play sometimes in noisy stadiums sometimes, but he knows how to deal with it,” Stricklin said. “He reads lips really well, and understands hand gestures very well. We make due. He’s overcome obstacles all of his life with the hearing disability, and is just an amazing kid.”
“It is really something that doesn’t come up much,” Nick Hamilton said. “My teammates are great about communicating even if there is crowd noise I’m able to hear for the most part. With technology getting better and better, each time I get new hearing aids I’m able to hear people a lot better. It’s a good time to be hearing impaired -- if there ever is a good time.”
Kent State will travel almost 3,000 miles to the Pacific Northwest for the program’s first NCAA Super Regional appearance as Oregon hosts the Golden Flashes in Eugene on Saturday. The game is schedule for 8 p.m. PT (11 p.m. ET), and will be broadcast live on ESPNU.
The Golden Flashes are riding a nation’s best 20-game winning streak into the weekend, which includes seven postseason victories. During the stretch, Kent State collected its fourth consecutive Mid-American Conference title and outlasted Kentucky 7-6, in a marathon 21-inning game to open the Gary Regional.
“Every single guy has really contributed something in the lineup, one through nine,” Nick Hamilton said. “I’m just glad to be a part of that, and that’s really what I wanted – to be a part of this winning tradition.”