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Reds speedster Hamilton gets call to Majors

CINCINNATI -- With his speed and a professional-record 155 stolen bases achieved during the 2012 season in the Reds' system, it was safe to say that center fielder Billy Hamilton's reputation preceded him to the Major Leagues.

An anticipated first big league callup finally came on Monday when Hamilton was among three fresh arrivals with the expanded roster. Also summoned with Hamilton from Triple-A Louisville were veteran catcher Corky Miller and corner infielder Neftali Soto.

"It will take a game before it feels real," Hamilton said while standing in front of a No. 6 jersey at his locker. "It's feeling real just coming into the clubhouse with all these guys. When I get a game under my belt and just watch those guys, it will feel real."

And there is little doubt that Hamilton will be doing more watching than playing this month. He is expected to be utilized late in games as a pinch-runner and could also see action as a pinch-hitter or on defense in double switches.

"I just talked to him and told him to do what I ask whenever we call upon him," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Stay ready and to sit there and learn, and not just be over there [not paying attention] and watch the game. You can learn a lot. I've been where he was already. I was a September callup [with the Braves] at 19 years old and 20 and 21. I didn't play much, but I learned a lot. So when I did start playing shortly after that, it didn't feel foreign to me. I didn't feel in awe of anybody or anything. That's the hardest thing to do as a young man -- to get the nerves out."

In his first full season following a conversion from shortstop to center field, the 22-year-old Hamilton batted .256 with a .308 on-base percentage and an International League-leading 75 stolen bases.  

Hamilton's numbers were stunted by struggles in the first half as he batted .243 with a .300 OBP. After the the Triple-A All-Star Game and MLB Futures Game, the switch-hitter batted .283 with a .324 OBP.

"The first half, I put a lot of pressure on myself," Hamilton said. "I wasn't playing my game. I was going out there and trying to think too much and play too hard. I knew that once I started relaxing and playing my game, it would come together. After that first half, I got home and talked to my mom. She was like, 'Just be yourself, relax a little bit and play the game.' After that, it started going good."

Since the Reds are in contention for a National League Central title, there is less pressure on Baker from the front office and fans to plug Hamilton into a primary role.

"He's not the focal point here," Baker said. "The focal point is us to win the division and hopefully the World Series. We hope he could help us in some small or large way do that."

Before the game, Hamilton was asked which he anticipated more, the first Major League hit or steal?

"Actually, my first Major League steal will be more important to me," replied Hamilton, who swiped his 155 bags last season with Double-A Pensacola and Class A Advanced Bakersfield. "I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be exciting. A hit would be good, too. I wouldn't mind it being a hit and a stolen base."

To make room for Hamilton on the 40-man roster, the Reds designated right-handed pitcher Pedro Villarreal for assignment. Villarreal cleared waivers and was sent outright to Louisville.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
Read More: Cincinnati Reds, Billy Hamilton