Micah Rice: Skyview grad Hamilton closes in on college role

Commentary: Micah Rice

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

Published:

 

The pitching rubber measures 24 by 6 inches. But a closer on a high-level baseball team must balance on an even finer line.

An athlete's relationship with adrenaline is always delicate and combustible. It can be fuel or a foe. It primes muscles to fight while telling nerves to take flight.

As the pitcher brought in to protect a lead in the final inning, few athletes perform this delicate dance more than closers.

For the best ones, adrenaline gives them power to throw a baseball 95 miles an hour without losing the precision to hit a spot from 60-plus feet.

It's like performing the Blue Danube waltz to Metallica.

It's a familiar tune for Ian Hamilton. The Skyview High School graduate set the single-season record for Washington State with 15 saves this season, earning ?All-Pacific-12 Conference honors.

Not bad for a freshman who was thrust into the role when the team's regular closer suffered an arm injury before the season.

Hamilton got his first taste of the adrenaline in the team's second game of the season against then-No. 1 Cal State Fullerton.

In that game on Feb. 15, Hamilton entered in the ninth inning with the score tied. After giving up a one-out triple, he walked two batters before inducing an inning-ending double play. He pitched two more scoreless innings to earn his first win in WSU's 9-7 victory in 11 innings.

Hamilton was hooked on the rush.

"The first game against Fullerton, I've never been so amped up," Hamilton said in a phone interview last week. "When you come in from the outfield bullpen, you're alone and everyone is waiting on you. That's pretty cool."

It's quite different than being a starter, Hamilton said.

His senior year at Skyview, he went 8-1 with a 1.17 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 60 innings to lead the Storm to the 4A state championship.

Hamilton loves hitting, so he arrived in Pullman with designs on playing outfield as well. WSU coaches immediately saw his potential as a pitcher and wanted him to focus only on that.

"Ian (Hamilton) is not your typical freshman, and he hasn't been since he showed up on campus," Cougar head coach Donnie Marbut said. "He has calmness about him and has stuff to go with it."

How does Hamilton stay calm on the mound? It's all due to the most basic function our bodies use to stay alive — breathing.

"I always make sure to take deep calm breaths," he said. "And I always have to chew gum."

Maybe that's the secret to walking the fine line between thrill and spill.

By breaking it down to basics, Hamilton enjoys the roller coaster that makes others lose their nerve.