By Michael Fitzpatrick
We’ve heard his voice so often over the years it’s not hard to think of him as a family member.
If that’s the case for you, then remember he lives in Avon Lake if you want to send him a Christmas card this winter. That’s where you’ll find the home of Tom Hamilton, the living, breathing soundtrack of the Cleveland Indians.
Hamilton’s been calling the Indians games going on 28 years now, and has been behind the mic for World Series appearances in 1995, 1997 and last fall when the Tribe dropped a dramatic seven-game series to the Chicago Cubs.
Hamilton’s called thousands of games over those years and can still remember his first home opener when asked about it. It came on a cold, wet April evening against the New York Yankees and was not played to its conclusion as snow began to fall and the game was called in in the second inning.
“It got snowed out. Second inning and then a big snowstorm came off Lake Erie and boom,” Hamilton said during a phone interview last week. “I remember being very nervous and thinking ‘Uh oh, I’ve got to do this again. This one didn’t count.’”
Hamilton first lived in Bay Village when he and his wife, Wendy, set up shop in Northeast Ohio after coming here from Columbus when Tom was hired to call Tribe games with the late Herb Score.
“The first thing we said to the realtor was ‘What is a good resale market if I get fired after a year or two,’” Hamilton said.
The Hamiltons moved to Avon Lake in April of 1994, the same year the Indians moved to (then) Jacobs Field from Municipal Stadium, and have remained since. All four Hamilton children, Nick, 27, Kelsey, 25, Bradley, 21, and Katie, 19, graduated from the Avon Lake City Schools.
“We’re just average Avon Lakers,” Hamilton said.
With a high-pitched voice that booms with energy and trends toward shrill when excited, Hamilton has become legendary in Cleveland for his home run calls — “Swung on and belted,” “Swing and a drive” can be found on T-shirts — but he’s humble when asked about his career and place in the hearts of Cleveland fans.
He said he remembers coming to Cleveland and listening to Joe Tait doing the Cavs and the late Nev Chandler doing the Browns on the radio and being “in awe.”
“I could not believe how good Joe Tait and Nev Chandler were. When I came, that’s who was doing play-by-play for the Cavs and Browns. To me, the city of Cleveland will never have any two broadcasters ever as good as Joe Tait or Nev Chandler. I have never, ever put myself in their class. They’re heads and tails better than me,” Hamilton said.
Not many who grew up listening to Hamilton would share the same opinion.
It’s been quite a career ride for Hamilton, who grew up on a dairy farm in Waterloo, Wis., and got his first job in Shell Lake, Wis., population 1,200, which he considered to be a step up from Waterloo.
As he followed his dream to become an MLB radio play-by-play guy, he did what he could to make ends meet, including tending bar when working.
“Which in the state of Wisconsin is not a difficult thing to accomplish,” Hamilton noted.
“You did whatever you could to make ends meet to keep the dream alive,” he added.
From Shell Lake, he bounced to Milwaukee, then to Columbus where he did the Triple-A Columbus Clippers games under a unique agreement.
Hamilton went to Columbus to work for the radio station that did Ohio State sports. He also did the morning show. But he knew if he ever wanted to do radio play-by-play at the major league level he’d need Triple-A experience.
“I volunteered,” Hamilton said, of how he got into the booth to do Columbus games. It turned out the station already had a guy to do the Clippers, so Hamilton elected to help out and do a few innings of the home games for free. The regular guy would get a couple of innings off, Hamilton could build up his resume tape. It was a win/win. Except that Hamilton still had to get up at 3:30 a.m. every day to do his “real job.”
“If you are willing to work for nothing, it’s amazing how many people will hire you,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton ended up getting hired in Cleveland after three years in Columbus and has been here ever since. His 27 seasons behind the mic tie him with current TV broadcaster Rick Manning for the second-longest broadcasting career in team history, behind Hamilton’s former partner Score (34 years).
Ask Hamilton his most memorable broadcasting moment and he doesn’t have to go back far.
“Not to be a prisoner of the moment (but) there hasn’t been, in my memory, a more riveting moment than Rajai Davis in the eighth inning of Game 7 and that at-bat he had against Aroldis Chapman. If that’s not the greatest moment in the history of that ballpark, it certainly is top three,” Hamilton said.
Off course Davis’ two-run home run tied the game 6-6, but the Indians would go on to lose in extra innings.
But hope springs eternal and Hamilton believes this year’s club is as ready as any he’s been associated with to make a World Series run.
“This is one of the best teams going back to the 90s. I can’t remember a time when I thought we had a better team since that era,” Hamilton said.
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