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How Billy Hamilton impacts Sox dugout despite being hurt

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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Billy Hamilton hasn't played a game for the Chicago White Sox this month.

But the speedy outfielder, on the injured list with the same oblique strain that landed him there earlier in the season, has remained a constant presence.

"He's part of why there's a really good vibe on this club," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said Monday. "You see it in the dugout. But he's in the clubhouse, wherever he is, he's surrounded by people that have fun with him."

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If you're fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the White Sox dugout during a game broadcast or can keep your eyes on it while at Guaranteed Rate Field, Hamilton is hard to miss. He's taken up a role of dugout jokester, always a smile plastered on his face. He's grabbing foul balls tossed from third-base Joe McEwing and firing them into the crowd. He's laughing with his teammates at the end of the bench. He's on the top step, providing positive energy.

For a guy who was added in the middle of spring training, expected to play a specific role as a speed demon, he's full throatedly embraced the White Sox clubhouse culture, not just becoming an advocate for how the South Siders do what they do but becoming a part of how they do what they do.

 

"These guys have a lot of confidence, these guys want to perform every single day. All I hear them talking about is winning and being confident, so I kind of fit in right away with those guys," Hamilton told NBC Sports Chicago in May. "This team over here, it's fun to be a part of because you want to win, you've got to win.

"We feel every day is like a championship game, our last game. We want to come in and win every single game, and that's what I love about this team. And the confidence walking around the clubhouse, how we carry ourselves over here, everybody's walking around with so much passion and so much confidence. It's just fun to be a part of."

Hamilton has won over White Sox fans, his early offensive struggles distant memories thanks to some clutch hits, an improbable two-homer Memorial Day Weekend and the defensive play of the team's season in a rainy center field in Minnesota. There have seemingly been more celebratory chants for Hamilton — "BIL-LY! BIL-LY!" — than ones for any player not named José Abreu.

But he earned fans in the White Sox clubhouse long before the South Side fans were chanting his name from the bleachers.

Hamilton has been struck by the support he, a career .240 hitter in nine big league seasons, has received from his first-year White Sox teammates. He's talked repeatedly about how Tim Anderson has boosted his personal confidence and rearranged the way he approaches the game. That confidence is a team-wide thing, Hamilton said, something infectious that turns any newcomer into someone who feels right at home.

"When you walk into this clubhouse, things are going to change. No matter what type of stats you had, what type of results you had, when you come here, these guys are going to force you to be better," Hamilton said. "They're going to do everything they can to have your back and have as much confidence in you as you have in yourself.

"I came over here, me being down a lot because people always say, 'You can't hit, you can't do this.' But the confidence that these guys have in me and the trust that the players have my back makes it easy for me to come in every day and continue to get better, continue to improve on things that I lack in.

"Every single day, all I hear is, 'Pick him up.' These guys, they have your back, no matter what the situation is. It's not like, 'You didn't do your job, go sit down.' It's, 'No, pick him up.' It's always that in the clubhouse, it's always that in the dugout."

Hamilton, too, now is part of the reason for that mentality, a staple on the big league roster since Opening Day. His contributions during the season's first four months were part of the incredible efforts of fill-in players, who kept the White Sox championship hopes afloat while Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert were recovering from significant injuries.

 

Those two middle-of-the-order bats are back now, and Hamilton, even once he returns from the IL, figures to be utilized more as he was projected to be before the season started, as a specialized weapon La Russa can turn to in the team's most important games over the final months of the regular season and into October. Hamilton's speed is game-changing, and it's not difficult to see it making a critical difference in a game with everything on the line.

But if the White Sox get there, and are able to use Hamilton's greatest attribute in a World Series game, they'll have Hamilton's other contributions, both inside and outside the lines, to thank. The White Sox wouldn't be where they are without the efforts of Hamilton and the other guys who filled in. And they wouldn't be here without their singular focus on winning and being positive while doing it.

Hamilton found that out when he joined the White Sox during the spring. Now he's part of what makes that engine of positivity go.

"We're just a team that battles," he said. "We're not sad and going to give up because we lost our best players. We're going to continue to see what we can do to build off this. 'What can we do to make today better?' We're not looking at tomorrow, we're not looking at the next day. We're looking to win today, and then we'll figure what goes on tomorrow.

"I want to continue to do everything I can to help the team, and I want to be able to be a part of a winning organization. This team is big on winning, so I love it here."

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