Monday, April 01, 2002

Opening Day


Hamilton eases fears with steak

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        Joey Hamilton has adopted a steak strategy. On the night before he pitches, a night he hardly sleeps, the Cincinnati Reds' Opening Day starter tries to make himself groggy over a big piece of beef.

        “I'll probably have a porterhouse or a rib-eye,” Hamilton said Sunday afternoon. “Medium-rare. When you expend that much energy to eat, it makes you tired. Hopefully, it will make me so I can't roll over on the bed.”

        Most pitchers feel some anxiety before a start, but Joey Hamilton's butterflies are built more like B-52s. He can't get past the mental picture of some hitter smashing one of his pitches on a lethal line, right back at him.

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Opening Day pitcher Joey Hamilton walks towards the dugout after stretching Sunday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        “At some point, while I'm lying in bed, I'll think about it,” he said. “Just like every time I get on an airplane, I think about it going down. There's nothing you can do. It's not going to change.”

        With the Chicago Cubs in town to open the last baseball season at Cinergy Field, speculation naturally turned to Sammy Sosa, who has robbed many a pitcher of a sound night's sleep.

        “No,” Hamilton said. “It's usually someone like Jose Canseco — a guy so big and strong who stands right on top of the plate. You see some of the balls they hit and you wonder, "Can you get out of the way?'”

        Hamilton recalls only two instances when he has taken the brunt of a big-league blast — once, last year, on the glove-hand wrist; another time in the back — but it happens enough to keep him awake at night. It happened, most graphically, to his close friend, Bryce Florie.

        Florie and Hamilton came through the San Diego system together and both broke in with the Padres in the spring of 1994. Hamilton won 15 games in 1996, and was rewarded with San Diego's Opening Day start for 1997. Today is his second Opening Day assignment, an honor that reflects both Hamilton's sparkling spring and the Reds' shortage of starting pitching.

        Florie has not been so fortunate. On Sept.8, 2000, pitching in relief for the Boston Red Sox, Florie threw a pitch to the Yankees' Ryan Thompson that came back at him like a cowhide cannon shot. Before Florie could raise his glove in self-defense, the ball shattered bones surrounding his right eye.

        Florie returned to the big leagues last June and threw 8 2/3 ineffective innings for the Red Sox before being released. Hamilton drove to Louisville last fall to watch his friend pitch for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens, and remembers Florie flinching whenever a ball was struck in his vicinity. Pitching can be perilous work and Bryce Florie now serves as a symbol of the fragile nature of a ballplayer's career. He is currently employed as a farmhand in the A's organization.

        “Even before he got hit, I used to think about it before every start,” Hamilton said. “After that, it probably got a little bit worse.”

        He thinks of it less when he can sleep, which is one of the reasons Hamilton haunts steakhouses on the eve of his starts. If he eats enough, but not too much, he might manage to drift off for a few hours.

        “I'm probably going to Morton's tonight,” Hamilton said Sunday. “It's one of my favorites.”

        To eat. Perchance to dream.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456 or e-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com

       



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