04/02/07 7:58 PM ET
Winding road leads Hamilton to Majors
Outfielder a big-leaguer after nearly eight years, sees action
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
Hamilton's storybook day didn't come complete with a hit. He lined a tailing fly to left field. Matt Murton made a nice rolling catch on the ground and robbed the rookie. The crowd continued to show its appreciation."Man, that was unbelievable," Hamilton said. "It was awesome once. But the second and the third time -- I can't describe it. I didn't realize how excited I was until I got back into the dugout. My heart was [beating fast]." When Hamilton returned to the dugout, he was greeted by several teammates. Right fielder Ken Griffey Jr., himself a former overall No. 1 draft pick, playfully put his right arm around Hamilton's neck. "He's been through a lot," Griffey said. "He's a teammate and we have to support him in every way. I know that he's going through those first Opening Day jitters. We tried to get him to sit down for a couple of minutes and he didn't do it. He went in the cage and started hitting. Even though he didn't get a hit in his first at-bat, he put a nice swing on it." "It gave me the chills," center fielder Ryan Freel said. "It's what it's all about, being clean. It's another reminder of where he's at and where he could be. It just shows a lot of what Cincinnati fans are about. For them to respect what he's gone through and come out here and get to where he's at, fans realize that. It was an unbelievable moment." Now that he got through the first day, Hamilton has to negotiate the next 161 games. He will be the Reds' fourth outfielder and will often play as a late-inning defensive replacement or a spot starter for Griffey, Dunn or Freel. He will also continue to be drug-tested randomly up to three times per week. "The question is whether he can sit for three or four days and perform," said Narron, who hoped to get Hamilton a start this week. "It's something we'll have to find out. At some point something will happen where he'll get a lot of playing time." As exciting and noisy as Hamilton's first game was, his first day at Great American Ball Park as a Major Leaguer came in a much quieter setting on Saturday. Following the club's final exhibition game in Dayton, Hamilton returned with his family to show them around. He even took a picture of his nameplate above his locker. "I showed them around the clubhouse and stepped out onto the field," Hamilton said. "It was emotional for all of us. My Mom cried. My Dad and I stood there and talked by ourselves. He said he never thought he'd see the day again where I'd play baseball. It means a lot to me that I've pulled it together and got to this point."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.