CINCINNATI -- There are different ways of leading a baseball team. One day this spring, Billy Hamilton did it by following Devin Mesoraco to his locker, a half-step behind, then put on Mesoraco’s jersey.
“This jersey is a little tight,” Hamilton said.
The shoulder seams, of course, nearly hit Hamilton’s elbows. But it was a good gag. All the players in their first camp looked up and laughed.
When the Reds were taking batting practice that same day, Hamilton was playing shortstop. Adam Duvall hit a two-hopper to him.
“That’s easy money,” Hamilton said, flipping the ball to first.
Hamilton pokes teammates like Mesoraco and Duvall knowing that he may end up in the garbage can -- as he did when messed former Reds reliever Jonathan Broxton one too many times.
“My job is is to make everybody feel loose, have fun,” Hamilton said.
As the rebuilding of the Reds has continued, Hamilton has gone from everyone’s annoying little brother to a veteran. Needling and busting chops has a huge place in baseball.
It was one of the hallmarks of the Big Red Machine.
Hamilton is good at it.
This spring, with Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips gone, Hamilton has let his personality go.
Back to Broxton
“I always attacked Broxton,” Hamilton said. “I would mess with him every single day. It made me feel good. It made me feel loose. The thing about this game is you’re going to fail a lot. If you’re loose, it helps. That’s key for young guys -- I say young but I feel young myself. I feel like me being loose, it makes everyone else want to do the same.”
Broxton loved Hamilton's menacing, but he gave it back. The day came when Broxton picked up Hamilton and put him in the garbage can. Hamilton may be the fastest man in baseball, but Broxton — at 300-plus pounds — nailed him.
“Broxton is heavy on the scales but light on his feet,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton is climbing the charts as far as service time. Only Zack Cozart, Joey Votto and Mesoraco have more time in the big leagues among Reds. With Phillips, Bruce and Todd Frazier gone, there’s an opening for a vocal position player. Votto is never going to be that. Cozart’s time in Cincinnati is likely limited. And Mesoraco hasn’t been on the field for most of the last two seasons.
That’s made Hamilton more comfortable with a bigger leadership role.
“I didn’t want to come in and take over,” he said. “When you’re the new guy, you don’t want to do too much in front of the older guys. I came in and got my work done and just tried to fit in. I feel like now when guys are putting too much pressure on themselves, it’s my job to keep them loose. It’s a good thing.”
Being a good role model
One of the first days of spring, Hamilton showed up for a drill with the stragglers.
“I wasn’t late,” he said. “But I was one of the last ones to get out there.”
Eric Davis, a special assistant who is in uniform during camp, pulled Hamilton aside.
“He told me, ‘you’ve got to realize all these young guys are looking up to you,’” Hamilton said. “‘They see what you’re doing.’ I knew that a little bit. But no one had said it to me. When he told me that I have to be an example, that’s a blessing. I want to take that seriously and have fun with it.”
Hamilton saw how the absence of "staying loose" hurt the team last year when things went poorly.
“Everybody was mad,” Hamilton said. “Nobody was loose. That’s why I mess with everybody. I joke with everybody. That’s the a big thing about this season, everybody has to be loose. Everybody’s here to have fun. Everybody’s here to compete.”
Hamilton wants the club in general to be like him when he’s on the bases -- i.e., a pain in the other club’s butt.
“We’re going to be a young team,” he said. “But we can be a young, scrappy team. We can upset some people.”
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at email@example.com