Hamilton’s Taillights Disappear Around the Bend
I celebrate my 35th birthday in one week. The older I get the more nostalgic I feel. I started thinking about my first car; a 1984 Ford truck. How hard I worked to get that thing going. The money I poured into it the summer before my 16th birthday. The good times and the not so good times we shared. The spray can paint job. Flashlight taped to the steering column, (the dash lights didn’t work, shhhh). I started to wonder if I could get it back somehow, if I could track it down.
Jon Daniels wasn’t looking for his first car this summer as much as he just happened to pass it broken down along the baseball highway. He still looked like he could race. He was the right price. He was a classic by most definitions these days, but when JD first traded for him, he was the eye of the track. Fast. Strong. Everything you could ask for in your first big ride, but would it be the same? Could he ever be that dream machine he once was, or anything similar?
The CarFax read like a good novel. He was a race car from day one. Fine-tuned as the years went along, leaving others in the dust. He was everything you wanted: a five-tool monster. His drag times from home to first were unseen for a machine that size. He cornered and cut in the grass like he was made for the off road. At the same time he had the power to carry a lineup of others to places they had only dreamed. You’ve heard of the ’67 Shelby GT500? Some called her “Eleanor.” This one described above? This one was a Hamilton 5T, or “Josh.”
See Josh was built to be a beast. Clear and away the leader in his class; destined to be one of the best. He cruised through the local drags, and was making a name for himself on the dirt tracks and stock races; he was on the fast track to the National Circuit. It was in this time though that Josh began to realize maybe his wiring wasn’t quite right. He felt more and more alone. We all know the story from here. Years of abuse on the car and motor, constant fight with the onboard computer, and ongoing search for the mechanic or garage that could fix things.
Tampa Bay had given up. Cincinnati opened it’s garage doors, and seemed, with the help of a “gearhead,” Jerry Narron, to get the Hamilton back on the track. The Hamilton 5T for the first time ever was showing all five tools at the highest level. Cincinnati wondered though, was it only a matter of time before he crashed and burned? Maybe we should try to move him, while the motor sounds smooth and the check engine light is off?
Jon Daniels was looking for a sprint car to bolster his young reputation. He had graduated from middle school and was now entering High School Baseball as a GM. See High School can be a tough time for a a GM. You can make good grades. You can say and act that way you should, but if you aren’t “cool” you won’t survive it. To be one of the cool kids you needed to win. You need to act the part. And in the small town of Baseball, you need to escape your past reputation. JD had to convince the kids in class that even though he was Ranger, he wasn’t a loser. A year or two away, and still just a blip on the radar, Jon Daniels needed something big for his confidence. Something to impress everyone at school. Something that could carry him through these difficult High School years. What JD needed was a bad ass car.
In the Winter of 2007 JD got his Christmas gift a few days early. He got his Hamilton 5T. He showed up at school that spring still working on it. Few tweaks here and there, a new paint job and wheels. Finally as summer arrived, Josh was ready. JD and Josh were about to become one of the cool kids.
2008 New Meat – July 14, 2008 Yankee Stadium – The Home Run Derby
Together they made their first Friday night run on the drag. Stopped in the fieldhouse parking lot, and suddenly everyone in town knew them. The Media girls flocked, and formed a line to the left. The stories became bigger and better; the reputation was building.
2009 Sophomore Year
JD and Josh were poised to be upperclassmen. They had developed a swagger. They had their click and were ready to take over this school. They had prepared themselves to take Baseball High by storm.
2010 Junior Year – The MVP and The World Series
The talk of the halls. Hamilton had won every award imaginable for JD. And the year had been stellar as they headed into prom season. Two years earlier, no one would have imagined that JD would have a date to the prom. Word around town from the old timers could be heard daily, “You mean a Ranger will be at the Prom? Things have changed…” It still wan’t easy. The school bully even challenged JD at the flagpole three days before the dance. The Yankee family had been Baseball High royalty for generations. No way was this Yankee going to let a Ranger go to prom. When the crews met that night, it wasn’t much of a fight. The last guy from the Yankee crew, (we knew him as Arod), didn’t even swing as Neftali Feliz threw a curve at him. Hamilton’s tires squealed as they left the parking lot. The exhaust roared. The engine howled. Josh was a fine tuned machine and the best was yet to come. A few days later, JD and his buddies took Josh and headed to the prom. They were just happy to be there. Their friends were still talking about the fight. They would just laugh at the pictures but the boys were just excited to be a part of the dance for once. It was monumental, but still lacking. A few of the girls still laughed. A few of the guys still thought a Ranger didn’t belong. The prettiest girl in town still didn’t take the last dance with them, but it was a great night nonetheless.
2011 Senior Prom – 2011 World Series
This year the Rangers belonged. No one had a doubt. They had secured their place at the top of the Baseball High class. Some thought a Ranger might end up Prom King. The night started out slow, (Game 1), hard for the Rangers to get onto the floor. Shortly after, it looked like no one was going to dance, (Game 2). Then at the last second the Rangers showed up on the floor. They were feeling it. They took the floor by storm after that, (game 4&5), and towards the end of the night looked poised to get that last dance with that girl, (Game 6). The last song started and JD was on the floor, then some guy cut in, sailing right over his buddy Nelson Cruz, and finished the song. Looked like the night was lost. As JD leaned on Josh one more time in the parking lot, that girl came running. The Hamilton 5T had done it again! Then that lifted pickup pulled in between and just like that it all slipped away…
2012 Summer of Senior Year – May 8th 2012 The Four Homer Game
This was the last big party of summer. Graduation had come and gone. Everyone would be moving on after this season. As much as you wanted things to be the same, you knew they would be different. How different was the question. When Josh rolled into that pasture party all eyes were on him. He still purred like a kitten in idol. Just ready to burst at any moment. And this night he did. It was that one last reminder of how great he could be when all cylinders were firing. Problem was, there was a tick in the engine now. Things were going wrong a little more often. Something wasn’t right.
The last day of summer – Oakland Coliseum October 3, 2012
The Hamilton had been running on fumes since that last big party. His reputation had taken a hit. His performance numbers were just not there, but hey he one last chance to redeem himself this last day. All JD needed was for Josh to be great one last time, and then he could focus on the first frat mixer this fall. Josh wasn’t up for the task. He raced in, blew a tire, missed his turn completely, and limped back towards the garage. It was basically over. Josh was done. JD would move on. Josh would go to his next garage, and the Rangers of those four years would be the “what could have been” of Baseball High.
JD and all of us watched Josh from afar for a couple of years. It appeared he was never the same after leaving this “baseball town.” JD wondered, could his mechanics and this garage make him better? Did the Hamilton 5T still have everything inside that could make it great, or was it a fluke that Josh ran like he did for those four years, (.307/.361/.536)? When you look back now at those years, was it really that Josh had the look and feel of a race car? Or was there too much duct tape and bailing wire inside to hold it tighter for any amount of time? Is there a chance that Josh never was that car? That those few years were the outlier? That he is the car he’s been for three years now, (.257/.331/.474)? Years of hard miles, bad wiring, ill-advised additives, breakdowns and collisions have taken their toll. It’s time we realize what Josh is today, is what he’s always been: Nothing more than a memory of better times, and hope of what he could be, sitting in the garage.
Part of me believes we need that garage space more than ever. And that we should watch the tow truck disappear around the bend. The other part of me wonders if there’s still a chance, a little sliver of hope, on a cold October evening, JD with his letter jacket on, might say a little prayer, give the dash a pat, and crank him right up for one more cruise to the fieldhouse parking lot.