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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | PREP SPOTLIGHT BASEBALL
/ SOFTBALL: News and notes, scores and stats on game
day around the Valley and Ventura County | ERIC SONDHEIMER

UNLV's Hamill Cleans Plate

April 12, 1998|ERIC SONDHEIMER

LAS VEGAS — There were plenty of bets that former Chaminade High catcher Ryan Hamill wouldn't last more than a month before suffering a catastrophic eating experience at one of the many buffets along the Strip.

"We're going to mention his name at all the buffets and see if we can get a discount," Chaminade baseball Coach Scott Drootin said.

The big surprise is that Hamill has lost eight pounds since arriving for his freshman season at Nevada Las Vegas.

"I've only gone to three or four [buffets]," Hamill said. "You don't have time to eat. You just have time to play ball."

The 6-foot, 190-pound Hamill is making a strong bid for freshman All-American honors. He's batting .326 with a team-leading 11 home runs and 30 runs batted in.

With many of his former Chaminade teammates watching from the stands on Friday night, Hamill hit a grand slam over the center-field fence in the first inning against Air Force. Later, he added a home run to center and finished with three hits and five RBIs.

It's hard to believe Hamill started the season as a part-time designated hitter the way he has been crushing the ball. He endured an emotional roller coaster while trying to convince himself to remain patient.

"I was really down in the dumps those first 10, 15 games," Hamill said. "Then I said to myself, 'Being upset about it isn't going to do anything.' I hit in the cages every day after practice, working and working. Then I got my chance to start and I haven't been out of the lineup since."

Hamill came to UNLV with a proven record for hitting the long ball. He blasted a school-record 16 home runs and had 56 RBIs last season at Chaminade.

"He doesn't have to do too much to generate power," UNLV Coach Rod Soesbe said. "The ball jumps off his bat. He's a good player and is going to be a great player."

Hamill, 19, said Soesbe's hitting philosophy has made him a better player at the college level.

'He taught me a pitcher throws home runs and a hitter really doesn't hit them," Hamill said. "A ball that would be inside that I would foul off, now I'm going down the line. And a ball outside that I would normally strike out on, I hit to the opposite field for a base hit."

As much attention as Hamill should receive for his home runs, his greatest gift is his enthusiasm for the game. This is a teenager who becomes intoxicated with baseball fever each time he puts on the uniform.

Call him corny, call him a dreamer, but he truly believes every diamond is his special little sandbox.

"I love it when it's right before game time and they're singing the national anthem and you're about to take the field and you run to your position," Hamill said. "I get goose bumps every time the national anthem is sung no matter who the opponent is."

Remember, this is a Valley boy who was banned from riding skateboards or roller blades by his parents. He was allowed to play baseball starting at age 3.

"There's this joke that I can't do anything but hit and play ball," he said.

Living on his own in a dorm room has been an experience itself for Hamill.

"I guess you can say I was always a momma's boy," he said. "I still talk to my mom almost every day."

They talk about everything--baseball, school, girls, how to iron, how to wash clothes.

"You can't wash colors with whites," Hamill said. "You have to clean up your sink area because the cleaning lady doesn't come to do it.

'You actually have to dust."

With a 3.3 grade-point average in his first semester, Hamill is making sure he takes care of his academic responsibilities.

But baseball is more than just a game to him. If UNLV's batting cage could be open 24 hours a day like a casino, Hamill would be there.

"It's either I get to stay at the field and hit or I can go home and sleep," he said. "I'd rather stay at the field and hit.

"I remember [UCLA Coach] Gary Adams gave a speech at a banquet last year. He was talking about Eric Karros and Todd Zeile. He said it was not that they had the best talent in the world, it's that they stayed after practice every day and were the first persons to show up and last to leave."

Hamill comes from the same mold as former UNLV catcher Stacy Kleiner, who was an All-City player at Taft, started for three years in college and is now in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

"We need more Hamills and Kleiners out of the Valley," Soesbe said. "You give me some names like that and I'll take them any time."

Hamill hopes to keep hitting home runs--and enjoying his occasional visits to the Las Vegas buffets.

"I get my money's worth," Hamill said, referring to buffets and home runs.

*

Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422.

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