WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Billy Hamilton invited his family and friends all the way from Mississippi to see him play in the 2012 Carolina-California League All-Star Game. There was no way the Minor League leader in steals wasn't going to swipe at least one base.
"My teammates told me everyone was here to see me steal bases, so that's what I wanted to do," said Hamilton, who took home MVP honors for the California League. "That's the goal I have every game. To steal bags and get in position to score."
The Reds' top prospect not only gets into position, he almost single-handedly manufactures runs, as he did in the first inning of the Class A Advanced leagues' Midsummer Classic. The Bakersfield shortstop led off the game by beating out a bunt for an infield single, stole second and then swiped third. He jogged home on Lancaster outfielder George Springer's groundout to second base.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the Reds called him up in September just to steal bases for them," said Winston-Salem manager Tommy Thompson, who managed against him in Spring Training.
The All-Star Game, which the Cal League lost, 9-1, was just a continuation of Hamilton's first half as he swiped 80 bases in just 66 games. A big reason for that, said Hamilton, was his skipper.
"I have the green light whenever I'm on unless it's a situation [Blaze manager Ken Griffey] doesn't feel I should be going," said Hamilton. "I haven't had one so far. I told him before the season, 'You've got to trust me, Griff.' He said all right, and I haven't gone wrong yet."
What makes Hamilton's performance even more impressive is that every opposing team already knows he's a threat on the basepaths. He stole 103 bases in 135 games for the Class A Dayton Dragons last year and 48 in 69 games for Rookie-level Billings in 2010.
Hamilton's reputation also preceded him in Winston-Salem, where the Carolina League All-Stars knew he had more steals than all than all but one team on the circuit -- the Salem Red Sox with 99 steals in the first half.
"I think he stole a thousand bases last year, didn't he?" quipped Carolina League starter Matt Heidenreich of the Dash. "He's probably run past me three times already, he's so fast."
Heidenreich's plan of attack before he took the mound Tuesday night was pretty simple. Keep Hamilton off the bases so he can't steal bases in the first place. And when he got on?
"I just hoped [Nationals catcher Mike] Freitas would throw him out," said Heidenreich. "He's an All-Star for a reason. He's got a cannon for an arm."
Even though he couldn't catch Hamilton, Freitas said he enjoyed the challenge.
"As a baseball player in general, you always want to compete against the best," Potomac's backstop said. "It only makes you a better player."
Freitas and Heidenreich made a few pickoff attempts and mixed up their timing to keep Hamilton honest. But the speedster said it wasn't anything he wasn't already used to.
"I've seen teams hold the ball and pick off a lot more to get me out of my comfort zone," said Hamilton. "That's just not going to happen. The other day, a shortstop saw me getting a big lead and called a timeout because he was afraid I'd go. I'd never seen that before."
Did he steal the base on that occasion anyway?
"Oh yeah," answered Hamilton. "It only made me more determined to go."
As Hamilton keeps on proving this year, there's not much that can stop him. Not a timeout, not a throw-over to first, and not even a team of All-Stars.
Shoemaker wins the Derby: Hometown favorite Brady Shoemaker, an outfielder with Winston-Salem, won the Home Run Derby title with just seven swings of the bat. Shoemaker beat out Rancho Cucamonga third baseman CJ Retherford, who reached the finals by slugging a Derby-high seven homers in the first round. In the finals, however, Retherford managed just two.