Hamilton had a 'very grounding presence'
Decades before my baseball writing assignment was changed to writing columns, obituaries and only occasional news stories, I was a reporter/writer. I took my job seriously and probably emphasized writing more than reporting. Not an uncommon error in judgment for rookies.
The more years I spent in this business, though, the more I leaned toward reporting. I learned that the stories that read well were, by and large, those that had accurately and comprehensively reported the developments and distinctions of the event or person who had made news. I never ignored writing and eventually I learned reporting and writing were not mutually exclusive. I tried to emphasize both aspects of working as a journalist, but I found reporting more rewarding.
When I learned Darryl Hamilton, a player I had come to know and appreciate, had been murdered, I felt little need to report and no need to know the details of a profoundly sad and awful occurrence. I read the online reports out of Texas on Monday out of habit. They didn't stick in my memory.
In his two-plus seasons with the Mets, he became one of the entries on my personal list of good guys and players who would provide candor and insight during the challenging moments of long seasons.
Once the horrible news reached my ears, I didn't want to read about others' thoughts and prayers.
My sense of loss and the ongoing senselessness of so much of what I witness, view and read these days told me to put away the laptop and listen to music, play with my granddaughter or get lost in something someone else has written -- anything so that my focus was on something other than Hamilton's death.
I preferred to think of the guy who played center field for the Mets teams that participated in the 1999 and 2000 postseasons. I chose to recall the good guy who visited me in the Citi Field press box earlier this month, a guy who never was stumped for a response to "hello" -- not all players have one -- and who routinely had enough pleasant and intelligent words in him to make a visit to his locker worthwhile for any beat reporter.
Hamilton's input seldom was critical to a story. He wasn't a member of Mets aristocracy, not a Mike Piazza, Al Leiter or John Franco. Hamilton was rather a member of the club's all-time proletariat, a fine player, a low-magnitude star. Folks sought his autograph, but they didn't cherish it as they would come to cherish the signatures of Piazza, David Wright, Jose Reyes and now Matt Harvey.
Hamilton was OK with that. He knew he was living the good life and appreciated what he had earned. He struck a balance. I used to identify him as "the Mets' other Darryl" even though he and Strawberry never were Mets contemporaries. He was OK with that, too.
We had good conversations about the Mets, baseball in general, non-baseball issues of the day and, of all topics, reporting. When he came to the press box that night, we briefly renewed some of our talks and chuckled. And now this.
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Robin Ventura called Tuesday afternoon to talk about the friend he, too, had lost. "We'd kept in touch," the White Sox manager said. He was the third baseman when Hamilton was the center fielder for those Mets teams. Ventura was a go-to guy for me, as were Hamilton, Todd Zeile, Joe McEwing, Lenny Harris and Rick Reed.
Ventura and Hamilton had texted, and when their jobs brought them together, they'd speak as if no time had passed since the last shared a moment. It's that way for players who have rich experiences in common. Images and words rush back.
Now, whenever Ventura is reminded of Hamilton, he'll recall the good times and also how he was sick to his stomach for much of Monday. "The loss of a really good friend," Ventura said Tuesday. "He was a grounding presence on our team. Those last three games in '99 [when the Mets swept the Pirates at Shea Stadium to force a one-game NL Wild Card tiebreaking game vs. the Reds] ... he'd walk into the clubhouse and -- I don't know if it was true or a joke -- but he'd say he'd checked with a psychic. He'd say 'We're good. ... We're in.'
"A very grounding presence."
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Hamilton had been working in television with MLB. That night in the press box, he said he found satisfaction in presenting and commenting on the baseball news of the day. We had something else in common.
Hamilton wasn't Vin Scully, Tim McCarver or Bob Costas. Who is? Hamilton was good at what he did, though, and improving. Sadly, the improvement has ended now.