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Josh Hamilton Shines in Rookie Ball

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BURLINGTON — After signing a multi-million dollar deal, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays sent No. 1 draft pick Josh Hamilton to rookie ball in Princeton, WVa. Tuesday, Hamilton completed a three game series in Burlington.

His shirt said Major League, but the stadium was not quite up to big league standards, yet each and every day, Hamilton inches closer to his dream of playing in the show.

Two months ago, he was playing the game for fun. It's a job now in theAppalachian League, which is part of the Advanced Rookie League, but Hamilton says he still loves the game.

"I'm having a blast," he said. "You can't ask for a better job to have. To do something you love doing for a living, you can't ask for anything better. I guess I am just lucky.

"You get to practice about two or three hours before every game, so you get to work on different fundamentals and every aspect of the game, and I think that has helped out a lot."

The practice shows in his numbers. Hamilton is among the league leaders in batting average hitting .343, and he leads Princeton with 59 hits, 13 stolen bases and is tied for second with seven home runs -- not bad for a marked man.

"He's got a name out in the league, and he's one of the top hitters, so the guys know that and they are trying to making a living as well, so they are going to pitch him a little bit tougher," says Princeton hitting coach Mike Tosar. "He's just got to be patient, and if they are going to walk him, then he has to take the walk."

Taking a walk up the ladder to the majors usually takes a high-schooler four to five years. In Hamilton's case, Tampa Bay feels he can make the climb in as little as three.

Hamilton played his first professional game June 19. During the game he also launched his first home run, which was later returned to Hamilton by a young fan who found the ball across the street from the Bluefield O's ballpark in a creek.

So far, Hamilton has handled the fame and fortune like a true professional. The Princeton Devil Ray'sWeb sitesays Josh always takes the time to sign autographs and talk with the many fans that surround him after games.

After a loss against Martinsville the site says Hamilton "was signing autographs just like McGwire and Sosa, little kids and adults too crowded around just to get his name on a ball or a program cover, little boys wanting to just touch his hand and Josh being so good to all of them. Even when we lose, the fans win with players like this on our team."

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Todd Gibson, Reporter
Todd Gibson, Photographer
Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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