At Episcopal High School in Bellaire, Texas, Mark Hamilton lettered in soccer as well as in baseball. Baseball America magazine put him on its national all-star team and in 2002 he played for Team USA in the Goodwill Games. He shone academically. A National Merit Scholar at Episcopal, he majored in cell and molecular biology at Tulane, not the typical course load of a Division I athlete on scholarship.
He was part of a celebrated 2002 recruiting class at the school, a baseball powerhouse at the time. In 2005, Tulane went to the College World Series in Omaha and the team eagerly anticipated playing the 2006 season in a campus stadium that was being expanded and renovated. But Hurricane Katrina wrecked much of the campus, including the athletic facilities. Hamilton's apartment was inundated with floodwaters, ruining most of his possessions.
Amid the death and suffering, Hamilton saw the big picture: He and his teammates were safe. It reminded him, he noted, that "material things" can be replaced. Friends and loved ones cannot. "You can always move on," he said then, "as long as everyone you care about came out okay."
Hamilton doubled down on baseball to see if he could make it a career. Although Tulane played the following season in a local minor league stadium, Hamilton's renewed focus paid off. He hit 20 home runs in only 64 games while hitting .336 and walking more than he struck out. Numbers like that attract attention and when the 6-foot-5-inch Hamilton ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds -- extremely fast for a wide receiver or running back in football -- the scouts drooled. He was chosen by the St. Louis Cardinals, the 76th player picked in a talent-rich draft.
By 2010, he was crushing Triple-A pitching at Memphis, the Cardinals' top farm team, earning a chance at The Show. Stuck behind Albert Pujols, one of the greatest first basemen in baseball history, and a slugger his own age named Allen Craig, Hamilton never got much of a chance in St. Louis. He did play with the Cardinals for the last month of the 2011 season, winning a World Series ring in the process, and stuck with the game -- and ensuing stints in the Boston and Atlanta farm systems and in winter ball in Mexico and the Dominican Republic -- until 2014.
Although he never really made it in the big leagues, this wasn't a case of Cinderella's carriage turning into a pumpkin. Hamilton had made a promise to himself that if he wasn't on a major league roster when he turned 30, he would pursue the career that he always felt was his true calling. Like Moonlight Graham, Mark Hamilton wanted to be a doctor.
Five years later -- today -- that dream will come true as he graduates (online, of course, as live ceremonies have been canceled) from the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in New York. He is scheduled to begin his residency at Northwell's Long Island Jewish Medical Center where a majority of the patients are battling COVID-19. A husband now with two daughters, he expects to be enlisted in the fight. "It's daunting," he said this week, "but we're going to get through this."
"Baseball, it matured me," Hamilton recently told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "In my 30s, it gave me a different perspective -- by playing internationally, seeing what people didn't have, what opportunities I did have. I had to grow up. It absolutely taught me how to dedicate yourself to a craft."
That craft, once baseball, is now medicine. Hamilton has found it striking that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has compared the epidemic to a "slow-moving hurricane." This virus is just as "relentless," Hamilton says, but even more fearsome.
"This has a different feel," he says. "A hurricane, you can see winds going crazy, streets flooding, and you know something is wrong right outside. When you look outside now it's 62 degrees, sunny, and everything seems right in the world. And it's not. It's humbling that the world can be brought to its knees by something you can't see, but you know it's there."
Later today, Mark Hamilton, former baseball player, will be "Dr. Hamilton," and he sounds ready for what lies ahead.
"I know eventually -- I know I'm going to be in the fray," Hamilton said earlier this week when asked about treating COVID-19 patients. "I wanted to be in this field. I'll take that responsibility."
"If they call me to come in," he added, "I'm coming." And that's your quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.