I had the chance to talk to New York Mets left-handed pitching prospect Hamilton Bennett by phone the other day. Ham is taking care of last minute preparations at his home in North Carolina before making the drive to Port St. Lucie, for the start of Spring Training. After being taken by the Mets in the 29th round of the 2010 MLB draft, Hamilton has now logged two very solid years in pro ball. In our conversation we discussed how far Ham has come in the last two years, how he has sharpened his game and his mental approach. He even details how a teammate in the minors last year really helped him to accelerate his development, and how it is motivating him heading into the 2012 season. Keep reading to see what other interesting stuff Hamilton had to say:
Petey: First of all congratulations Hamilton on a successful second pro season! You threw lights out this past year at Savannah pitching as their closer, helping them win the Southern Division of the South Atlantic League, and pitching in the playoffs. It must have been quite an exciting year for you. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers at MetsMerizedOnline.com. Did you spend the off-season back home in North Carolina?
Hamilton: Actually in Charlotte, North Carolina, I did. I spent time with my friends and family, and had a good, relaxing time after a long season.
Petey: That’s nice to hear, so you got your batteries all recharged huh?
Hamilton: Recharged and ready to go.
Petey: Okay, so when the Mets drafted you out of Tennessee Wesleyan College (TN) in the 29th round of the 2010 MLB Player Draft, how did you first hear about it, and what was that feeling like?
Hamilton: To be honest, I was playing summer ball at Winchester, Virginia, at the time. And I didn’t talk to a single scout, at all.
Hamilton: I know, it was pretty shocking, and so after a game, I think I pitched the game and got a win, I checked my phone, and had about 20 phone calls, 30 text messages, and the first thing that popped in my mind was that something happened to my family. Either my mom, my dad, my sister, just because I never thought MLB Draft. And so after listening to some voice-mails and checking some text messages, and all that, I finally realized I was drafted. I couldn’t believe it and went online and actually saw my name was called by the Mets. It was a really surreal feeling just to actually now get the chance to live out the childhood dream that I’ve been pursuing since I was 8 years-old.
Petey: That’s so awesome! Is there a person or two, a coach, a friend or family member, or even another player, who you have learned the most from, or who inspired you to chase your dream of one day becoming a major league baseball player?
Hamilton: Well, probably two people baseball-wise. As the mental side and mechanically and all that, it was Tom Glavine. Growing up in Braves country, I mean all we got to see on TV was the Atlanta Braves. And so, that’s who I wanted to be. That’s the career I wanted to have. And then another gentleman, Greg Pandarvis, who was my high school coach, was real big on just pursuing your dream. Regardless of it being a truck driver, a baseball player, a student, whatever it is just chase your dream. So he really inspired me to push, and give all my energy towards my goal.
Petey: When you came out of college you were throwing your fastball around 86-90 mph. After two years in the professional ranks has it gone up a few ticks?
Hamilton: It’s probably in the low 90′s now. Cause out of college I was a starter. So I was sorta trying to make it through seven innings. Instead of now, as a reliever, to be honest I’m just going out there for one or two innings throwing as hard as I can.
Petey: Yeah lettin’ it all hang out.
Petey: Very cool. What kind of movement are you getting on your fastball?
Hamilton: Actually my fastball has got a lot of movement. And it’s funny because down in Savannah, they nicknamed my fastball “The Invisible.” Just because it’s not like it was a trick 96 mile an hour fastball. But for some reason nobody could hit it so they kept calling it The Invisible. It moves. My fastball sorta has a little bit of sinking action to it. And I throw a circle change-up that has down and outward movement. And then my curveball is real slow and loopy, 12-6.
Petey: When you started your pro career you said you wanted to work on your curve-ball, make it a priority. Tighten the rotation and sharpen the break. Would you say the pitch is where you want it to be now?
Hamilton: Absolutely. With the pitching coaches and the resources that I have now, I’m constantly trying to develop my curveball to be at a professional level to face the hitters that I’m facing. For the past few years that’s one thing I’ve really tried to work on my off-speed, curveball and change-up. And with Glenn Abbott last year as well as my Brooklyn pitching coach, Rick Tomlin, they really helped me get the best of my off-speed pitches.
Petey: Are you working on adding any new pitches?
Hamilton: I am. I’m trying to get something along the lines of a cutter, a slider. I’m just trying to work with those two and see which one feels better for me. I want something that’s hard, that moves a little bit more.
Petey: What is the one most important thing you learned, or accomplished last year while pitching at Savannah?
Hamilton: Just the mental side of being in pressure situations. I had never been a closer before, and so when they moved me to the closer role I totally had to learn, basically start fresh, I had to realize how to throw again, mentally. Then when we made it to the playoffs it was another learning experience. Cause I had never been in such a pressure filled situation. With the tying run on second base, one out, in the 9th inning. Away at Greensboro, it was real big, mentally challenging, but I thought it really developed me for the future, whether that’s in St. Lucie, Binghamton, Buffalo, or Citifield.
Petey: You spent nearly all of last season at Savannah and pitched really well there. Your numbers were: 2-0 with a 1.83 ERA and 14 Saves. In 54 IP’s you gave up only 30 hits, 1 HR, walked 15 and struck out 56. Those were some excellent numbers. But there was a monkey wrench thrown in there. You spent a little time on the DL, what happened?
Hamilton: Yeah it was one of those freak accidents, to be honest with you. After a game I pitched in Greenville, South Carolina, against the Drive. To get to the locker room you have to go on the field. The locker room is actually behind the first-base dugout, and we’re in the third-base dugout. And so I was walking up and there was a step, and I was talking to a teammate of mine, and completely missed the step, and sprained my ankle. It was just a fluke, and it wasn’t anything serious, they just kept me out…I was on the 7-day DL, and then when I came back it still wasn’t a hundred percent. We knew we were going to the playoffs and they didn’t want to rush me back, so they took their time, making sure I was healthy, and that way I could get a hundred percent strength-wise, and get back on the mound with a fresh ankle basically. And I came back, and everything was fine.
Petey: Wow, that’s really something.
Hamilton: It was a freak accident. I’m left-handed so I’m kinda clumsy anyway.
Petey: I’m not gonna comment, some of my best friends are lefties. How bout this, do you have any goals for next season?
Hamilton: I always try to maintain the same goals. I always want to keep my ERA under two, for the season. I try to keep my walks under, like one walk every five innings. I want to average a strike out of a batter an inning. And then in the long-term picture, I’d love to throw for the Buffalo Bisons this year if I can. Just because they play against the Charlotte Knights, and that was sorta the team that I grew up going to games.
Petey: That would be cool.
Hamilton: Yeah that’s my long-term minor league goal, is to play against the Charlotte Knights.
Petey: When did your off-season workout schedule begin, and when did you start throwing?
Hamilton: When I first got back I sorta took my time to relax, just watching the World Series with the Rangers and all. I took my time, and then I started lifting again after…I’d probably say the 1st of November. Started lifting again to get back in shape, not heavy but just real light to get my strength back. And then about after Christmas, is when I started throwing again. So I gave my arm a good three months off so it could recover fully and here now I’m just trying to sharpen everything right before I head back.
Petey: Excellent. When is your reporting date for Spring Training?
Hamilton: I report March 3rd. So I’ll probably leave around the 2nd, this way I can get down there and get settled in before the chaos starts.
Petey: What do you like to do for fun over the off-season, when you are not working out, or doing baseball related activities?
Hamilton: For fun, I’m coaching. I love helping children. That’s basically what I want to do. My major was in Education so I love to teach, coach, and I’m helping children before the high school seasons and all that start. I’m kind of a lazy person to be honest with you, if I could sit on the couch and watch TV, or watch Jeremy Lin with the Knicks or something like that, that’d make my night.
Petey: Hah! That was going to be my last question for you! Best point guard in the NBA, Jeremy Lin?
Hamilton: Absolutely. Between him and Chris Paul. Just because Chris Paul is from the North Carolina area, and so I got to support my Carolinians. But I’m really thrilled about what Jeremy Lin is doing for, not only the state of New York, but for the NBA.
Petey: And for the world, China’s going Linsane!
Hamilton: It’s unbelievable! And that’s what I put on Twitter and on Facebook, I’m so happy the Giants won the Super Bowl. And the Knicks are on a winning streak now, and so it’s good to see all the New York teams doing well.
Petey: Yeah it really is. Now all we gotta do is get the Mets to follow suit.
Hamilton: Give us a couple of years, we’re in a little bit of a rebuilding stage, but we got a lot of talent in the minor leagues.
Petey: We definitely do. I’ve been keeping a close watch on all you guys down there and we are definitely moving in the right direction. And I think the talent level has really come up quite a bit in the last couple of years.
Hamilton: We’ve got a lot of talent, and we’ve got great coaching staffs who know what they’re doing development-wise. We’ve got real good trainers and strength coaches, so it’s going to be a lot of fun in the future, that’s for sure, for not only for New York, but for the whole organization.
Petey: Now for a very serious question, Hamilton.
Petey: What is this huge uproar about your mustache? When I told a few Mets insiders I was planning on doing an interview with you, they all said. “Find out about his mustache! Make sure he still has it! Ask him how it’s doing!” So ummmmm, how’s your mustache Hamilton?
Hamilton: (laughing) I do have my mustache, I’m in the process of growing it right now. It’ll be back. It was funny when I got drafted, being from South Carolina and going to school in Tennessee, and they sent me to Brooklyn, NY which I’ve never been to in my life. When I got there, everybody was calling me, like players and friends and all that were calling me, “Hey your the hillbilly from South Carolina!” And I was like, “I’m not a hillbilly, I’m, as my dad would say, a rural southerner.” But I was like, “You want to see a hillbilly?” And I found out that the Mets only allowed mustaches, as facial hair.
Hamilton: In the minor leagues, nothing below the mouth. So I grew it. They said you cannot shave it. I had some fans love it as well. And then Brooklyn ended up giving me a promo night called “Hamilton Bennett’s Mustache Mayhem.” I mean it was one of those things that I just did as a joke, and now it stuck with me.
Petey: That is really a great story. So what do you think? Best baseball mustache ever?
Hamilton: Ever? It would be Rollie Fingers.
Petey: Yeah, of course he’s a classic.
Hamilton: Yeah you can’t compete with the whole twisty, curly, bees-waxed mustache, you can’t compete with it.
Petey: You really can’t. But I gave it a little bit of thought, and I think I came up with a guy who deserves an honorable mention.
Hamilton: Who would that be?
Petey: I’m goin back a little ways, so I don’t know if you remember the Mad Hungarian, Al Hrabosky. He was a left-handed reliever who used to pitch for the Cardinals among other teams. He had a whole schtick where, in a big spot, he would go to the back of the mound and put himself into a trance, it was weird.
Hamilton: I’ll have to look him up, but I’d say Fingers sticks out, and then if you look back, if you watch a classic baseball game on ESPN classics, and watch one in the 80′s. I mean Wally Backman had a mustache. So there’s a lot of guys that had a mustache, I’m trying to bring the baseball pastime back to it’s original roots….
Petey: …of the mustache! Wally still has his by-the-way. Well they say that fashion goes in cycles. Everything comes back into fashion eventually.
Hamilton: That’s what I’m trying to do with the mustache. And then, I mean it caught on because the closer with the Milwaukee Brewers this past year had a mustache.
Petey: Yeah, and look at what the beard did for Brian Wilson.
Hamilton: Exactly, everybody’s got their own little thing going for them, and I guess mine is the mustache.
Petey: Is there a major league player, past or present, that you would say you are similar to in style? Or someone that you can see yourself pitching like someday in the majors?
Hamilton: Hmmm, honestly if you look at my mechanics, and put Tom Glavine next to me side by side, they’re identical. Just because when I was growing up, my father never played baseball, so what he would do is just record the Braves games, and telling me your doing this like Tom Glavine, your doing that like Tom Glavine, and that’s who I followed.
Petey: Very interesting.
Hamilton: And mentally, as a reliever, I want to have that role, I know it’s weird, but like a Mariano Rivera. I mean whenever they need Mariano Rivera to come in and get three outs, that’s who they call on.
Petey: Yeah he’s money in the bank.
Hamilton: And that’s the sort of mentality I’m trying to take on. Whoever my manager is whether it’s Terry Collins with the Mets, or somebody in the minor leagues, if they need somebody to come in and get three or six outs, that they say, “Alright Hamilton Bennett’s the most reliable let’s get him in there.” That’s the goal I’m trying to reach with my career right now.
Petey: Thinking about you closing games for the Mets, reminds me a little bit of John Franco, the Mets all-time saves leader.
Hamilton: Franco? Yeah I actually got to meet him, he’s very knowledgeable.
Petey: Similar arsenal to yours, similar size, both lefties with a bulldog mentality.
Hamilton: Yeah, he wasn’t an over-powering guy, but he knew how to command the strike zone, and make people sit. Yeah I wouldn’t mind that career.
Petey: Pick one teammate, position player or pitcher, that really impressed you with his play last year, and tell us what it was that made you take notice?
Hamilton: Josh Edgin. He’s from a small college just like I am. He was drafted one round after me, and me and him were actually roommates. All he does is sit on his computer and think of ways to make himself a better pitcher. Whether it’s mechanically, or working out, or stretching and every different detail. And then when I got there he was the closer for the Sand Gnats at the time. And as a roommate I’m writing down notebook paper after notebook paper, trying to get as much information about being a reliever as possible. So he really helped me as well as other people on the team. He’s one of those guys you can just walk up to and say, “Alright in this situation, blah blah blah, what can I do to help myself get better?” And he’d come right out and say, “You want to do this, this is what your mentality has to be as a closer, a reliever, whatever.” He really helped me out big time.
Petey: That is so cool, he sounds like one day, when his playing days are over, he’d make one heckuva coach.
Hamilton: He’s got the talent to have a very long career in the big leagues, that’s for sure, and I hope he does. But I could honestly see him being a very good coach.
Petey: Wasn’t it after they called Josh up to St. Lucie, that they made you the closer at Savannah?
Hamilton: Right, once he left I had to basically take his role. And after rooming with him for two or three months it really helped me get to where I needed to be.
Petey: I got a chance to interview Josh a few months ago for MMO, and he is a very interesting guy.
Hamilton: Well, we’re both left-handers, we’re kinda similar built, he’s a little bit heavier than I am and throws about 7 mph harder than I do, but he’s just very knowledgeable and a very good guy to talk to.
Petey: When you see him at spring training give him my best.
Hamilton: I will.
Petey: And to finish up Hamilton, just a little personal info, not pertaining to baseball. What is your favorite movie?
Hamilton: Favorite movie…whooo! I mean it’s so hard, every time someone asks me that you got to pick a genre. But, my favorite movie…is probably gonna be Armageddon.
Petey: Oh, great movie!
Hamilton: I mean Bruce Willis, good actor, and everybody else in it. and there’s only one movie, every time I watch it, that I tear up, and that’s Armageddon.
Petey: Yeah when he sacrifices himself at the end….
Hamilton: Right, right, right.
Petey: That is cool, you can’t go wrong with Bruce Willis. How about music, do you have a favorite musician or band?
Hamilton: Favorite music? I’m a big Country listener. So I’d probably have to go Brad Paisley country artist, or, I mean the Tim McGraw’s and all them are always good. So anything country’s really good.
Petey: All right!
Hamilton: But Brad Paisley’s my go-to.
Petey: He’s the closer, hahahah!
Petey: Favorite food?
Hamilton: Chinese or Japanese. I’m a big sushi fan.
Petey: It must be hard to find good sushi when your on the road, huh?
Hamilton: Yeah, just because in the minor leagues, the sushi’s sort of an expensive dish, for what your getting. You don’t really want to spend all your money on six pieces of sushi, you wanna try and get more bang for your buck. There’s places to get it that’s for sure.
Petey: Well I want to thank you again Hamilton….do you like being called Hamilton or Ham? What do you prefer?
Hamilton: Oh it doesn’t matter, my friends call me Ham, or Hambone. So it doesn’t matter at all.
Petey: Okay. Well listen thanks again for taking the time out for this interview. It’s been a lot of fun for me talking to you, and the readers and staff at MMO really appreciate it.
Hamilton: Well thank you. Thank you very much.
Petey: Good luck with Spring Training, stay healthy, and best of luck in the regular season this year.
Hamilton: Thank you sir, bye-bye.
I had a lot of fun chatting with Ham the other day. He’s a great guy, very easy to talk to, and someone who is very easy to root for. More than likely he’ll be starting the season closing games for the St. Lucie Mets in the Florida State League. That should be a great experience for him, because the starting rotation in Lucey should be very good this year, and that will give Hambone the chance to pitch in a greater number of meaningful games. Making AAA in 2012 may be a bit of a stretch for him, but by 2013, he should be getting that chance he has been waiting for, to pitch against the Charlotte Knights. After that goal is accomplished, he can focus on that last remaining goal, of pitching in the major leagues one day.
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