A soldier who has survived combat will tell you when the bullets are flying you can hear them whistle as they tumble past you. Anyone who has ever seen Josh Hamilton or Miguel Cabrera hit a baseball in person may tell you the same thing.
In 1992, I was an assistant baseball coach with the Athens Drive High School baseball team in Raleigh, NC. We had a freshman catcher named Jason Hamilton who was an outstanding prospect, but it was his little brother that really caught my eye. At a baseball clinic at Methodist University, I saw for the first time the "Kid." A blonde, curly haired 10-year-old Josh Hamilton had jumped into the batting cage and proceeded to rip line drive after line drive. And you could hear them as they went crashing into the netting. The bigger kids all wanted to know who he was. I remember saying to the head coach, "Are you kidding?" Yes, he was that good.
10 years later, a friend of mine who worked in the Carolina Mudcats (Florida Marlins affiliate) front office told me, "Hey, you have to see this 20-year-old third baseman, he's the real deal." The next night I saw a baby-faced Cabrera hit a screamer down the right-field line that was a game winning line drive. The ball had rifled off his bat so quickly that before heads had turned to see what happened, the game was over. Yes, he too was that good.
As an 18-year-old in 1976, my American Legion team was playing in a regional tournament in Easton, Md. There was this skinny center fielder on the Easton team who was a line drive machine. The ball literally jumped off his bat. The Chicago Whitesox number one draft choice, Harold Baines went on to mash 384 HRs and 488 doubles in his American League career. Those of us who saw him that summer and heard those line drives knew.
I was so fortunate to see those great hitters when they were just getting started. When you saw them and "heard" them, you knew.
As a longtime Phillie fan, I was also lucky enough to see some of the greatest National League players of all time, although I can't say I heard them. I was at the game in 1965 when Richie Allen, toting a 42-ounce bat, wrist-whipped a "moonshot" over the Coca Cola sign in left field. I didn't hear it, but I am sure it was roaring when it cleared the entire stadium. I can still visualize that little white pill as it vanished into the darkness. Tim McCarver once remarked that when Allen hit a ball you could hear the whistle. McCarver knew first hand.
That same year, my uncle took my brother and I up to Yankee stadium to see the Yanks battle the Baltimore Orioles. I saw Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris hit home runs in the same game. Frank Robinson had also hit one. I couldn't hear them, but I am sure they were whistling. In the late '70s, as a season ticket holder at Veterans Stadium, I saw Mike Schmidt whistle more than a few of his 548 HRs out into the left- and center-field seats. I witnessed the great Henry Aaron with those powerful wrists, blast a few of his 755 HRs at the Vet as well. Although they didn't put up the same home run numbers, I remember the Met's George Foster and the Dodger's Steve Garvey ripping whistlers off the left-field fence and only getting a single because the balls had made it the fence so quickly. The ball seemed to fly off their bat, and I am sure it whistled as it did.
I didn't conjure up Sir Isaac Newton to provide me with mathematical calculations on how fast a baseball can go, but I know I have heard that whistle. When Josh Hamilton came back to Athens for an ESPN Homecoming special, he was out on the field with his old coach Clay Counsil feeding him gopher balls for fun. And even though I am older now, and my hearing isn't quite as good as it used to be, I swear I could still hear that scream.
Right now, Hamilton and Cabrera are tied for home runs with 43. Despite being a huge Josh Hamilton fan, I will be rooting for Cabrera to hit one more screaming line drive out of the park to secure the elusive Triple Crown. I won't hear it when it happens, but I am sure it too will be screaming or whistling when it leaves the park. And knowing Josh Hamilton, he will whistle for his friend, Miggy.
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