CLEVELAND (AP) — Tom Hamilton’s unmistakable voice, the one that has given Cleveland fans so much joy for 23 seasons on the radio, choked with emotion.
On Saturday, Tom’s oldest son, Nick, will play in the College World Series for an underdog Kent State team that has defied the odds during an improbable NCAA tournament run.
“For them to do that,” Hamilton said, straining for the proper words, his eyes filling with tears.
Hamilton was speaking about his three brothers, one living in Dallas, one in Chicago and the other from his home state of Wisconsin, who will meet him in Omaha, Neb., for a family reunion and Father’s Day weekend getaway to watch his son.
“It’s just been an incredible ride,” Hamilton said before Friday night’s home game at Progressive Field against the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Surreal is the only thing I can come up with. My wife Wendy and I look at each other at night and go, ‘How long can this fairytale continue?’”
With a slew of one-run wins, the Golden Flashes have battled their way to Omaha, where they’ll get to take their swings against some of baseball’s big boys in a double-elimination tournament format. Kent State (46-18), which upset Oregon last week on the road, will play its opener Saturday against Arkansas.
And Hamilton will be there to cheer on Nick, who was recently drafted by the Indians — a team he idolized as a kid.
“We’ve been so blessed,” Hamilton said, “and we feel like we don’t want it to end. You’re on such an emotional high. We know how fortunate we are and are just trying to soak in everything.”
Hamilton missed a few broadcasts last weekend to see Nick play in Eugene, Ore., and the Indians told him to take time off to see Kent State’s primary designated hitter play in the World Series.
“The Indians just said ‘go,’” Hamilton said, his score sheet sprawled in front of him on a round table in back of the radio booth. “They’ve been unbelievable, just incredible. I’m going to stay there as long as they win.”
Unbelievable and incredible would describe this Kent State journey as well.
The Golden Flashes, with 27 Ohio natives on their roster, are the state’s first school to make the World Series since 1970 and first Mid-American Conference program to get there since Eastern Michigan in 1976. On the way to Omaha, Kent State beat Kentucky before traveling to Oregon, where the Flashes played the Ducks on their home field.
“Can you imagine being in the Final Four for basketball and you’ve got to beat Duke at Cameron?” Hamilton. “For teams that aren’t the home team, what Stony Brook did at LSU and what Kent did at Oregon is absolutely incredible.”
So, too, was Kent State’s 21-inning victory over Kentucky a week earlier.
“Greatest game I’ve ever seen,” Hamilton said without hesitation before providing a quick recap of the ceaseless drama. “You really thought after winning that game, anything is possible.”
Finding game tickets for the entire family in Omaha was quite the challenge for Hamilton, who had to rely on some of his baseball connections to secure a few.
On Friday, Hamilton’s wife Wendy loaded up the car and drove with the couple’s three other children, Brad, Kelsey and Katie to watch Nick compete in the final games of his college career.
Shortly before Friday’s game, Hamilton got an update from the road.
“Brad called and said, ‘Hey, Dad, we just passed a sign that says Bob Feller museum, is he from Iowa?” Hamilton said, laughing. “I said, ‘Yes, he’s from Iowa.”
Tom’s brother, Rob, is also bringing his family — and a little karma — with him to Nebraska. On Thursday, Rob Hamilton coached Sun Prairie to a baseball state championship.
In Omaha, Tom Hamilton, who has called countless baseball games in major and minor league parks across the country, will take seat in the stands and not the press box. He’ll watch as his oldest son lives out a dream that began as a kid when his dad would bring him around the Indians clubhouse to meet stars like Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome.
Hamilton is powered by adrenaline these days, the exhaustion overwhelmed by exhilaration.
He’s not missing a second of the baseball ride of his life.
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