More from interviews with KSU designated hitter Nick Hamilton, his father Tom, mother Wendy. and Kent State coach Steve Stricklin:
Q: Is communication when you’re on the bases tough?
A: Teammates know they just have to be loud around me. As long as everybody’s on the same page it works out. And I’m awful blessed to have great coaches and teammates who have been understanding about it. When anything has come up, it’s been worked out.
Q: Has there ever been a serious issue on the field?
A: Just if my back’s turned to the catcher on a cutoff, they know they have to be a little louder because I’m out there. There’s never really been many issues.
Q: I guess you could never play catcher.
A: That’s the only place I haven’t played because of the hearing aids. I didn’t want to get hit and have my hearing aids flying around.
Q: When you transferred from Xavier, were potential schools concerned about this?
A: If you can play, they’ll be glad to have you. I’m awful lucky that nobody’s looked at it and gone, ‘Is this an issue?’ It never has been. I have my parents to thank for it.
Q: Are you self conscious about the hearing aids?
A: You learn to accept it. It’s not going to change. I’m not going to get my hearing back tomorrow. It’s one of those things, you learn to make sure you do the right things to make sure everyone knows if I need anything extra. If you’re self-conscious about it, then no one gets to know what they can do to help.
Q: Is the chance to go to the College World Series a dream?
A: This has been our goal ever since I came here, to get to a Super Regional and ultimately get to Omaha. Two wins away right now to reaching Omaha is really special, that’s why we need to keep our focus. We keep working hard and focusing on everything that has gotten us to this point.
Q: Was the 21-inning game against Kentucky surreal?
A: It is. Me and Doug Sanders, our volunteer assistant and infield coach were in the dugout and Doug looked me at me and said, ‘Nick, have you ever seen anything like this?’ and I said, ‘No way, I haven’t seen anything on TV like this.’ I think it was the 19th inning when that happened. Like, ‘Wow, this is really special.’ And on that stage in the NCAA tournament. It felt like two hours to me. I know it was six-something hours. It felt like the time was flying.
Q: When you were little did you mimic your dad on the radio?
A: I probably did. I think every kid does a little play by play.
Q: Who is your favorite Indian?
A: Carlos Baerga is why I switch-hit, but he got traded pretty quickly. I was about 4 when that happened.
After that it was Charlie Nagy and Kenny Lofton. I loved the way Charlie went about everything, how hard he worked. It’s somebody I looked up to. Kenny was as exciting as they get.
Both guys when they were on the field, you felt like there was a different energy. They just rubbed off on their teammates, that confidence they were going to win. You always felt like the Indians were in a game when they were on the field.
That was a special time back then. It just doesn’t happen twice, those kind of teams. We have a lot of Cleveland guys on our team and we still talk about the ’95 and ’97 Indians and the players we had. It was amazing they were all playing at the same time.
Q: Why did you leave Xavier?
A: I just wasn’t real comfortable with the school. It wasn’t anything against the baseball program, I was doing fine in school. I just wanted to be a little closer to home. I wanted to go to a bigger school.
Q: Was KSU your first choice?
A: Once I talked to coach Stricklin it was definitely first on the list. I wanted to be part of a winning program and Kent’s had a great history with all the great players that have come through here. And the school was what I was looking for, too, as far as my major.
I’m a dual major in business management and finance and Kent has a good business school. To me it was a fit all around.
Q: Did your dad ever try to steer you away from baseball?
A: Not at all. It’s really been a bonding point for both of us. We both have a huge passion for baseball. It’s been a lot of fun to have my dad there along the way. I’m always able to ask him questions and bounce ideas off him. He’s helped me so much.
Q: Did he take you to spring training?
A: Every year our family went down there. It was a long month and a half in Winter Haven. If spring break didn’t line up with spring training, he took me out of school. It was always a lot of fun to see him for a week and get out of the Ohio weather.
It was so old-fashioned down there, you could walk around on the minor league fields. It was a lot of fun.
Q: Did you try all the sports as a kid?
A: I wasn’t allowed to play football. It’s something I’ve always had a passion for. Baseball has been the sport I’ve loved the most.
Q: You started the eighth-inning rally against Kentucky in the regional final game.
A: It was just one of those things, it was late in the ballgame and coach (Mike) Birkbeck just came up to me and said, ‘Hey, Nick, just find a way to get on base.’ That’s really the approach I had in that at-bat. I’m glad I was able to come through and help us.
The starter was still on the mound. He was pitching a good game and I knew what I was looking for in that situation rather than the whole pressure of trying to get on base.
KSU COACH SCOTT STRICKLIN
Q: How do you feel about the challenges Nick has faced?
A: It’s something he’s dealt with and it’s something he’s thrived with. It’s amazing. We think about the little things that bother us in our lives and what he’s been able to overcome and overcome it with excellence, it’s just unbelieveable.
Q: How many surgeries has Nick had?
A: I believe nine. Some were like other kids, having tubes put in. His are always a little more dicey. Every time you go in there you’re taking a chance.
Q: I’ve heard Nick’s surgery was experimental.
Q: It’s not considered experimental any more, it’s now an accepted surgery. He was 3 when he had it. He was surgery No. 93 or 94.
The pioneer was Dr. Charles Bluestone out of Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital. Then later we had to have another one, he was so young when he had it done, when Dr. Bluestone did it initially he said, ‘This is going to be an active kid.’ The tough years were through his teen-age years. He was very limited; he couldn’t ride rollercoasters. He might have been the most miserable kid.
Q: Are you amazed Nick could play sports at all?
A: The toughest sport was basketball because hearing aids amplify every sound. If you were in a noisy gymnasium, it made it much more difficult for him to communicate. His teammates were great. They did more hand signals. Sometimes you’d have to get right up to him and holler at him.
Q: How has the Kent State baseball team dealt with this?
A: There’s more challenge there for Nick and for his teammates and for his coaches. Not many people ever deal with a kid with hearing loss. They deal with kids wearing contacts or eyeglasses. It’s a new challenge for his teammates and coaches and they’ve been great about it. We feel like we’re really blessed.
As tough as the challenges may be, if he’s not able to speak or hear at all, that’s an entirely different life.
Q: How amazing was the regional in Gary?
A: It’s almost surreal now, the 21-inning game. For him to be a part of that, for them to beat Kentucky and Purdue the way they did, it’s hard to put into words how proud we are of all the kids. It’s a tremendous group of kids. And what that coaching staff has done with all the talent they lost last year, it’s a credit to that staff and those kids.
Q: Are you still fearful of what’s next for Nick?
A: You are, especially the early years. When you were told that when he was 3 it was like your world was shattered.
The credit goes to my wife Wendy. She refused to accept that initial prognosis that there was nothing you could do and he was simply going to go deaf in a matter of time. Wendy said, ‘That’s not good enough.’ She scoured the country for all of the top doctors in the world.
Yeah, we were told there are no guarantees with this surgery. It’s tougher when you’re so young.
Q: Tom said you scoured the country for a doctor to help Nick.
A: Tom gives me way too much credit. When I said, ‘I think we need to keep pushing and find some more answers,’ I couldn’t have done it without his support.
Q: How hard was it to keep him quiet after surgeries?
A: As a youngster there were many times he had to be told, ‘You’re not going to play this sport until you recover.’ He was always very motivated to get back at it.
Q: Are you surprised the level Nick has reached in college baseball?
A: I always felt like if you gave him a chance he would do it. He’s a big believer in himself. Baseball to him is like breathing.
The things I’m amazed Nick has achieved are not necessarily sports. He took Spanish and got into advanced Spanish and took more Spanish in college. For a hearing impaired person to learn English well, then also learning a foreign language is a pretty good accomplishment.
In elementary school he was in the band and he played the drums. I think. I see those things as pretty big achievements.
Playing baseball at the level he’s playing is only because of his hard work and dedication.
Q: Are you going to Oregon?
A: My husband is going. I have another son, Bradley, who plays baseball, he’s 16. He just finished his sophomore year at Avon Lake. His travel team is in a tournament this weekend in Cincinnati. His mother isn’t going to let him check into a hotel on his own.
We’re fortunate all of us were able to go to Gary. I can’t wait to hear the play-by-play from my husband in Oregon.
My husband has really learned how to text pretty speedily now. His texting has improved.
Q: You also have two girls.
A: Kelsey goes to Kent State, she’s starting her junior year. She and Nick really enjoy it, every once in a while they’ll have dinner together. Katie, the youngest, is going into high school in the fall.
Q: What’s the biggest problem for Nick playing baseball?
A: Every time he puts that helmet on over his hearing aids, there’s a lot of feedback. I’ve talked to a number of people and no one’s come up with an idea. The people who manufacture the helmets haven’t figured out how to put the cushioning in but still allow a little room to reduce the noise.
People tell me they forget he wears hearing aids because he functions at such a high level.
Q: Do you know Nick’s percentage of hearing loss?
A: If you take the hearing aids out, Nick would hear a loud door slamming, but he wouldn’t hear conversation. He’s not considered completely deaf. He reads lips so he can follow the context of what we’re saying. He’s considered to have moderate to severe hearing loss, which is not as bad as profound.
He worked very, very hard as a youngster, up until he was in eighth grade with a speech therapist two to three times a week. Nick was very motivated to speak like everyone else. He’s done very well.
He’s done very well in the classroom, excellent grades, he’s been on the Dean’s List almost every semester at Kent.