It was a 1-1 count with one out in the bottom of the ninth and a man on first on May 23, 2019, when senior first baseman Chris Hamilton, then a junior, saw a pitch he liked and clobbered it well beyond the fence in right field.
“Honestly, I was just trying to get the job done and help our team win as much as I can,” Hamilton said in an interview with The Statesman. “It happened to be a good pitch that I could hit and it worked out for us.”
The walk-off home run gave the Stony Brook baseball team the 7-6 win against UMass Lowell in its opening game of the America East Tournament, having clawed all the way back from a 4-run hole in the eighth inning. Two games later, Hamilton ripped a tie-breaking 2-run double against Binghamton in the championship as the Seawolves won 7-5 and celebrated another America East title.
He was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, having driven in the game-winning run twice. Hamilton’s heroics led the Seawolves to their sixth NCAA Tournament appearance, and he went a perfect 4-for-4 against Louisiana State (LSU) in the Baton Rouge Regional in a 17-3 defeat.
“It was really cool when we found out on the selection show that we were going to LSU, with the previous team in 2012 going there when they went to the World Series,” Hamilton said. “Coach [Matt Senk] prepared us. We didn’t have the outcome that we wanted, but it was definitely a cool experience to play at LSU.”
Last year, Hamilton was part of a lethal top of the lineup for Stony Brook. Leading off was shortstop Nick Grande, the eventual 2019 America East Player of the Year who was listed as the 15th best at his position by D1Baseball. Batting third was center fielder Michael Wilson, who slugged .611 and led the team in home runs. Right fielder Brandon Alamo, the transfer from Cypress Community College who hit .335 in his final season, took cleanup duty.
Hamilton is the only one from that gang of four to return in 2020, but he was unsure of his future as the 2019 MLB Draft was taking place. His consistent production in the 2-hole did not go unnoticed by MLB scouts, who floated his name around as a potential pick after Wilson and Grande were taken in the 16th and 17th rounds, respectively. Ultimately, he was not selected.
“I got a call on the last day of the draft early in the morning and then didn’t end up getting a call back,” Hamilton said. “So it was a little upsetting, but I’m happy for Mike and Nick. Those are my best friends. I’m happy where they are now and I’m happy to be back. I’m happy to help this team this year and I’m ready to get after it.”
The 6-foot-2 lefty from Rotterdam, New York broke out in 2019. As a freshman, he batted .233 and hit one home run in 60 at-bats. Sophomore year showed slight improvements, with a .263 average and six homers while starting in 54 games. However, it was as a junior when Hamilton began to bloom into full form, setting career highs in batting average (.325), on-base percentage (.395), home runs (8), RBIs (42) and OPS (.930).
“The coaches helped me out in trying to fix my approach,” Hamilton said. “Trying not to strike out as much, trying to put the ball in play and hit the ball hard.”
Hamilton received high praise in January when D1Baseball listed him as the 122nd-best hitter in Division I. The publication stated that plate discipline was his best tool, with Hamilton grading out at 81.1 out of 100 overall.
“Chris was a huge part of our success last year,” Senk said in an interview with The Statesman. “If Chris can do what he did last year and hopefully more, he’s going to be a big part of this upcoming season. He’s arguably not only one of the best hitters in the conference, but in our region.”
Senk plans to move Hamilton to the middle of the order after a productive season batting second, but he is ready to deliver regardless of his place in the lineup.
“Anywhere Coach puts me, I’m just trying to produce as much as I can,” Hamilton said. “I think our lineup is going to be deep this year, so anywhere they put me, I just hope to contribute.”
The first baseman’s mental approach is praised by his teammates. “He’s a smart hitter,” graduate outfielder Cristian Montes said in an interview with The Statesman. “He learns from his mistakes. He doesn’t feed on his failures, and he’s just an overall professional hitter.”
During the off-season, Hamilton sought to further improve his game, specifically power and speed, by gaining nearly 15 pounds and lowering his 60-yard dash time. “Stealing some bases is probably my biggest thing for the year,” he said. “My ability to hit the ball to all fields and to the big part of the park [is my biggest strength].”
Last season, 25 of Hamilton’s 65 hits went for extra bases. His strikeout rate, which stood at 22.7% as a freshman, had been lowered to 14.8% as a junior. Already a strong defender, he owns a career fielding percentage of .995 and did not commit a single error until 2019.
In his senior year, Hamilton has one goal in mind: win another ring. Last year’s championship team provided no shortage of career moments, and he wants to do the same again to end his collegiate career on top. Those around Hamilton know he has what it takes to do so.
“He’s a great teammate and his approach just takes baseball to a different level,” junior catcher John Tuccillo said in an interview with The Statesman. “His mental game of baseball is really strong, so he doesn’t let his failures bring him down.”