For a while there it looked like the interview might not happen. The reporter’s calls kept going straight to voice mail. Caleb Hamilton texted back, “Try it again. I’ve got weird cell phone service here.”
The connection was finally made. It turned out that the former Woodinville Falcon was in a hotel in Davenport, Iowa. Despite intermittent moments of garbled reception, the interview went smoothly.
Hamilton’s team, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, was on the road to play the Quad Cities River Bandits. “Their stadium is right on the Mississippi River,” Hamilton said. “The ball does not fly there, let me tell you.”
Hamilton graduated in 2013 from Woodinville High School, where he starred at shortstop and pitcher. After playing three seasons with the Oregon State Beavers, he was drafted in the 23rd round by the Minnesota Twins. After spending last year in Elizabethton, Tenn., Hamilton advanced to Single-A ball and his current team, the Kernels.
“Last year I was in the Appalachian mountains,” Hamilton said. “This year I live with a host family in Cedar Rapids along with another teammate. We’re not that far from the field. We’re pretty hooked up. The families like to host players and they take good care of us. They appreciate us and we certainly appreciate them.”
As Hamilton can attest, baseball is more sophisticated at Single-A.
“When you move up a level the competition is obviously better,” he said. “We’re playing in front of 3,000-4,000 people a night in Cedar Rapids. The city is awesome. From the team aspect we’re pretty close with the community. They advertise everywhere. Pop up signs around the city, on the radio, on the news. It’s a full community effort.”
So far this season, Hamilton has played many positons, but is officially listed as a catcher. Through 40 games, he is batting .223 with 5 home runs and 21 RBIs. One curiosity does jump out from the stat sheet: His glittering ERA of 0.00.
“There was one game where we were down 23-3, and I went in to pitch,” Hamilton said with a chuckle. “That gave me flashbacks to high school in Woodinville. I struck out two batters, walked a guy and then got a ground out. So yeah, my ERA, it’s a goose egg.”
Hamilton went on to discuss what it’s like facing top pitching prospects from other teams at the Single-A level.
“We’re facing pretty disgusting pitching,” he said. “We’re facing the top prospects in the organization. There actually isn’t a huge difference [in talent] between top prospects and big leagers. The big league pitchers are more consistent. They can locate better than some of the minor guys and they can keep you off-balance.”
One of Hamilton’s highlights came on June 4th against the Burlington Bees. Hamilton smashed a 2-run home run to right field which helped lead his team to an 11-6 victory.
“I got a hanging slider and ended up putting a good swing on it,” he said. “The guy left the ball up in the zone for to hit.”
Hamilton’s homer did not occur in obscurity. The wonders of modern technology enabled his family and friends back home in Woodinville to witness and share the moment.
“I have a bunch of people who follow on the [MiLB] app,” he said. “So it’s pretty cool. Some of the clubs have cameras so you can watch the games. Back home at Cedar Rapids we have video, so you can watch it. My dad can watch my at bats. My whole family does that. And I talk with the Oregon State guys, and they are always checking up on me and I’m checking up on them.”
As Hamilton’s career progresses, he looks to major leaguers for role modeling and inspiration. Some of his favorite moments this year came at spring training in Fort Myers, Florida.
“We played Pablo Sandoval and we got to watch Craig Kimbrel throw,” Hamilton said. “One day Boston was out of town, so we went over to their park to play. We ended up facing the four guys in the back half of their bullpen. It was pretty cool watching them and seeing how they go about their business. Seeing what you need to do to get to their level.”