Taylorsville, MS (WDAM) - Billy Hamilton is right-handed. Yet, if you watch a Cincinnati Reds game this season, you'll notice the Taylorsville native batting lefty.
It's an adjustment Hamilton made when he got to the big leagues – drafted by the Reds in the second round of the 2009 MLB Draft.
While no step in Hamilton's career has been easy, he makes everything seem effortless. The outfielder begins his sixth major league season on Thursday.
"Really don't know how special they are until after they're gone," said Bud Blackledge, who coached Hamilton in football for three years at Taylorsville High School. "Seeing Billy every day in practice was one thing and replacing him after he leaves, now that's something else."
"Being from around here, you knew he was special when he was 8-years-old," said Dusty Hillman, Hamilton's baseball coach for one season. "Fastest kid in Taylorsville. Ever since he was a little bitty kid. He's always been the fastest kid around here. Never seen him get out-run."
It almost sounds like legend. Billy the kid, faster than a speeding bullet.
Yet, it's believable after watching Hamilton on the major league base-paths. Last season, he became the fourth-fastest player to reach 200 career stolen bases – doing it in just 424 games.
For a guy who's considered the fastest man in baseball, surely Hamilton never lost a race in Taylorsville.
Not so fast.
"I really wasn't the fastest always growing up," Hamilton said. "Everybody though that. 'I know you was the fastest growing up your whole life.' No, I had athletes around me still to this day that I would say are way faster than me. One of them is my sister. She used to just out-run me all the time. It just hits me once I get in the game. I'm really a big-time game-speed guy. When I get in the game, I feel like it's motivation. I got to get this done, I have to do this, I have to make things happen."
Hamilton's made things happen for five seasons with the Cincinnati Reds. The centerfielder has a .248 career batting average with a .298 on-base percentage. Last year, Hamilton was named a finalist for the National League's gold glove award for the centerfield position.
According to Blackledge, baseball was the last sport Hamilton picked up in high school. Many area folks believed Hamilton could have gone pro in any sport he chose.
"[He] signed with Mississippi State in football," Hillman said. "A lot of people around here, and you hear different people like coach [Rahim] Lockhart down at Jones [County Junior College], he said he could have played professional basketball. He was that talented all the way around."
"The baseball people started coming around, scouts and stuff," Blackledge said. "They all wanted to know what his best sport is. I said, 'His best sport is whatever he was playing at the time.'"
It's easy to see the raw talent Hamilton has been blessed with. However, it's the hours of hard work he's put in off the field that allows him to live out his dream.
No matter what corner of the world professional baseball takes him, Hamilton never forgets where it all started – Taylorsville, Mississippi.
"It took a lot of work for it too now," Blackledge said. "There's a lot of people that say, 'Oh he's just a natural.' That sucker worked. I wouldn't want to go bowling against him because he was just a competitor. I think that's why he's where he's at right now."
"Pride is here, this is where he's from," Hillman said. "He's proud to be from Taylorsville and that makes us proud to have a guy like that that supports us the way he does."
"Like I said, baseball is my love," Hamilton said. "That's what I do every single day of the year. But when I get a chance, I have to come back to my family. I feel like everybody in Taylorsville, we're so small, that's why I say family. Not just my main family. My family is Taylorsville 'cause everybody knows each other."