By A.J. Atkinson
“Swung on and belted to deep right-center field. Awwaaay back! Gone!”
Every Cleveland sports fan knows who I’m talking about: Cleveland Indians’ radio broadcaster Tom Hamilton. Selected by the Cleveland Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame Award in 2009, few homerun calls are as famous as this Cleveland legend’s. Right after hearing the crack of the bat come over the radio airwaves, Tom Hamilton’s booming voice takes over as he begins his famous homerun call.
For Tom Hamilton, however, he finds his popularity comical, saying it’s the doctors, scientists and people like his son playing baseball an hours drive south of Cleveland, who make a true difference in this world.
Nick Hamilton is fielding ground balls from third base on Kent State’s baseball team.
Examining the six-foot one-inch 190-pound athlete, your eyes quickly go to his low fielding stance—exactly how coaches instruct. The ball is hit sharply to him, yet he reacts so quickly he is still able to get in front of the ball—a technique every coach admires.
After his fielding session, Nick Hamilton grabs a bat and enters the right-handed batters’ box. Crack. Crack. Nick Hamilton is launching each hit deep into the field. Ten pitches in, Nick Hamilton switches to the left side of the plate. Crack. Crack. Nick Hamilton has the same results from the left side of the plate that he did from the right side.
No one would ever guess Nick Hamilton is nearly deaf.
Unlike his dad, Nick Hamilton’s first read on the ball is not how it sounds coming off the bat, but what it looks like.
“Your senses make up for each other,” Nick Hamilton said. “I have very good vision. I think that’s what I rely on more instead of sound. I can [hear] the difference between a really badly hit ball and a really well hit ball, but for the most part, I use my vision and try to judge the speed that way. It’s amazing how the body works.”
At three years old, Nick Hamilton always stood inches away from the television. Not the biggest worry, but when his speech quit improving, his parents knew something was wrong.
Tom and Wendy Hamilton took him to an ear, nose and throat specialist as well as an audiologist to try and figure out what was wrong. The audiologist hit the Hamilton’s with some grave news. Nick had significant, non-repairable hearing loss and would lose all hearing if something wasn’t done fast. Even more devastating, doctors had no idea what caused the hearing loss or how to fix it.
The Hamilton’s scoured the country for a resolution. They found Dr. Charles Bluestone at Pittsburgh’s Children Hospital. In 1993, Bluestone did an experimental and successful surgery on Nick. Though Bluestone couldn’t fix any of the hearing loss, he was able to stop the problem from continuing, which allowed Nick to be able to hear with the help of hearing aids.
Learning Nick Hamilton would not be completely deaf greatly uplifted the radio broadcaster’s attitude to the situation.
“We tried to emphasize with him from the day we learned this, you are going to be like every other kid,” Tom Hamilton said. “We aren’t going to baby you, and you are going to have to deal with some challenges that some other kids maybe didn’t have to. And for his credit, he never did. He accepted the fact he was different and he didn’t let that stop him.”
Nick Hamilton said because of this attitude that was instilled in him early, he never has considered using his hearing loss as an excuse. Instead, his only goal is to live as much of a normal life as possible, no matter what obstacles that means overcoming, such as playing baseball.
“The things he overcomes, I’m astounded on a daily basis,” Tom Hamilton said. “He’s a hell of a inspiration to the rest of us because none of us have to deal with that.”
As a standout at Avon Lake High School in Avon, Ohio, Nick Hamilton had many college baseball coaches looking at him. Nick Hamilton did not have to worry about what coaches would think about how he played baseball—that wasn’t in question. Nick Hamilton played baseball exceptionally well. What Nick Hamilton worried about was what the recruiting coaches would think when they realized he wore hearing aids.
“I wondered if people would understand I really don’t have any issues on the baseball field,” Nick Hamilton said. “It’s probably a little hard to believe because you don’t see a lot of deaf or hearing impaired baseball players because there aren’t a lot of deaf or hearing impaired people at a young age.”
After recruiting Nick Hamilton by talking to him on the phone multiple times, Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said he was met with quite a surprise when he and his coaches met Nick Hamilton for the first time in Stricklin’s office.
Stricklin said he called Nick Hamilton and saw the hearing aids.
“The only other baseball player I knew that was deaf was Curtis Pride,” Stricklin said.
Waiting until Nick Hamilton left the room, Stricklin looked at the rest of his coaches.
“Did you know he wore hearing aids,” Stricklin said he asked his other coaches in the room. “None of them knew.”
The new information on Nick Hamilton didn’t affect Stricklin’s recruiting interest in Nick Hamilton. Instead, it built it.
“I thought it was incredible,” Stricklin said. “I thought, ‘Wow! This guy is a very good baseball player and does everything on the baseball field you need to do, and he’s hearing impaired.’ What we might think of as an impairment is something he deals with as well as you possibly could, and that really shows his character.”
Now at 22 years old and in his junior year of baseball at Kent State, Nick Hamilton has appearing in 49 of the Flashes’ 61 games, splitting time between starting as the third baseman and designated hitter, and boasts the team’s third highest batting average at .364, and of the players who played in more than 10 games, Nick Hamilton leads them in on base percentage at .417.
“He’s such a great kid and a hard worker,” Stricklin said. “You can’t help but root for him.”
Good news continued for Nick Hamilton, as he was drafted by the same organization his dad works for in the 35th round of the MLB Draft.
Nick Hamilton could not be reached to answer whether or not he’ll return to school or begin his Major League career with the Cleveland Indians, but did say if the day would ever come, he hopes to do more than just play baseball.
As a person who understands the frustration of not being able to communicate with anyone, Nick Hamilton, whose second language is Spanish, wants to help Spanish-speaking players in baseball communicate.
“There really aren’t a whole lot of Americans who speak Spanish,” Nick Hamilton said. “I’ve always been one of those guys who doesn’t want to close doors on anyone. I don’t want to be not able to talk to someone because of a language barrier or anything else. Maybe [my] hearing impairment background is part of what’s formed that.
“I understand what it’s like to not be able to communicate sometimes,” Nick Hamilton said. “I’ve had hearing aids stop working on me. It’s awful lonely when you can’t talk to anyone. I guess I can relate to that and it’s definitely something I’d like to help others with if needed.”
Tom Hamilton said he could not be any more proud of his son, both on the field and off.
“I get way too much credit for what I do,” Tom Hamilton laughed. “I was just born with a big mouth. I don’t find what I do to be anything special. [Nick]’s the guy who’s overcome. He’s accomplished way more in his 22-years than I have in my entire life.”