Coaching baseball was ‘about relationships’ for Hamilton


LIBERTY TWP. — Evan Hills vividly remembers embracing the moment with his high school baseball coach.

It has stuck with him ever since Lakota East won its only state championship 13 years ago.

“I can still see the raw emotion,” Hills recalled. “He wasn’t much of a hugger, let’s just say that. He wasn’t an emotional guy.”

But that day, Ray Hamilton was.

“Just seeing tears in his eyes,” described Hills, who was the winning pitcher when the Thunderhawks beat Perrysburg 6-2 in the 2011 Division I state final. “I’ll never forget that. It gives me goosebumps to this day.”

Hamilton, an Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, announced earlier this week that he is stepping away from leading the Thunderhawks’ program.

He coached 11 seasons at Ross before taking the Lakota East position in 2000.

Hamilton retired from teaching last year and was rehired in a field maintenance role at Lakota East. Hamilton said he is unsure what the future holds in terms of coaching baseball.

“Hopefully you’ve helped out some of the younger guys,” Hamilton said. “The accolades and all that, it wasn’t the intention when I got into it. The intention was to want to play every day and coach kids the game of baseball.

“Then you go 36 years, play a bunch of games and win some of them. Somebody brought that up the other day. I said, ‘You know why? It’s because I’ve coached this long, and we had good players.’”

Hamilton has 593 career wins and led Lakota East to a 19-10 record this past season. The Thunderhawks finished 13-5 in the Greater Miami Conference, which was second behind Division I state champion Mason.

“At both places, Ross and at Lakota (East), when I took the job and made some calls to guys that I really respected, I heard the same thing — ‘You can’t win there,’” Hamilton reminisced. “I was like, ‘Why not?’

“At Ross, we were situated right in between Fairfield, Hamilton and Badin. They all know each other. They play together. Yeah. Yeah, you can. You can win. Just the complete opposite was true at both places. That’s the one thing at both stops that I will always remember. It’s what you permit. It boils down to what you believe in.”

Hamilton believed his teams were just as good as his assistant coaches. 

“We had some great ones,” he said. “Great assistant coaches.”

Hamilton didn’t hesitate to talk about his former players, either.

“And boy, did we have some great athletes, too.”

Tyler Minges, a 1998 Ross graduate, was one of the first names that came out of Hamilton’s mouth.

Minges, who runs the Tyler Minges Real Estate Group, said Hamilton was an instrumental part of his life — both athletically and professionally.

“He was such a great coach because he made you want to go to war for him,” said Minges, the state’s player of the year in 1998. “He would back you, and you would want to go to war. That’s what I remember most about playing for him. He got the best out of each player.

“He was a winner. Winners win. We won a lot. He wanted to win,” Minges added. “There is a killer instinct in a coach that you have to have. Ray to me was that. He wanted you to win. He wanted you to win for you, and he wanted you to win for your teammates. He was unselfish.

“He extracted the very best baseball player out of every kid. Every year, he brought the team together to bond and to fight for each other. He made you find the very best you that you could be. That was the very most important part of being coached by Ray. You found a way to win and how to win.”

Hamilton said winning a state championship was one of the highest points in his coaching career.

“You can respond to that in two ways, though,” he said. “Professionally, as a coach? Winning state was. Personally? No. I think coaching my two kids (Grayson and Garrison) was the best. There’s no doubt about it.

“It’s always been about relationships, and how well you can coach kids. I still think it’s like that. If you can’t do that, analytics don’t matter. And I was hard on my kids. There was no doubt about it. Almost a little too hard, some might say.”

Hills, now an eighth-grade science teacher in the Deer Park School District, said Hamilton coached him and his teammates as if they were Hamilton’s own.

“As a player, I’d describe him as a servant,” Hills said. “He didn’t necessarily have to say a lot to get things accomplished but at the same time there was that mutual respect that he’d do just about anything to make you successful. You were going to do anything from your end to be successful as well.

“We just had that expectation that you just showed up whether it was conditioning before the season or practicing and you’re going to work your butt off. There really wasn’t much conversation he had to have with us because he had instilled that work ethic.”

And all of that came together during the 2011 season.

“My senior year, it all just sort of meshed well,” Hills said. “I think like any team, you get hot towards the end of the season. You can kind of take that and ride with it. That’s what we did for Coach Hamilton.

“When it was all said and done, he had that mutual respect. If it wasn’t there, he would let you know about it. He knew he had talent behind him. Everybody knew that it could be the next man up if you weren’t invested in wanting to be a good teammate. All of that was because of Coach, and I’m thankful I had the chance to play for him.”

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