ASHLAND, Ky. – Thirty-seven is enough for No. 37.
Jody Hamilton, who has to be in the conversation as the greatest high school baseball coach in Kentucky history, told his players at West Jessamine High School on Sunday night that this will be his last season. The Colts begin 12th Region tournament play on Monday.
Hamilton, who two years ago was the National High School Athletic Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year and has won state championships at Boyd County in 2001 and West Jessamine in 2015, notched his 938th career victory when West Jessamine defeated East Jessamine 3-2 to win the 46th District title for the seventh year in a row last week.
The Colts are 22-10 and have won seven games in a row, peaking at the right time in typical fashion of Hamilton’s teams. They play Rockcastle County in the regional tournament opener
Hamilton, who has worn No. 37 throughout his playing and coaching careers, cracked into coaching at Raceland, where he endured his only losing season. The Rams were 13-15 in 1986 while playing every single game on the road. Raceland won the district crown in ’86, anyway, and was the home team on the scoreboard for the first time — in 28 total games — in the opening round of the 16th Region Tournament.
Hamilton moved to Boyd County and captured his first of 11 region championship trophies with the Lions in 1988, taking them to the state championship game. Casey Hamilton, Jody’s son, helped bring Boyd County to a state title in 2001. The coach has been at West Jessamine since 2004. The Colts have collected four region crowns (2008, ’10, ’15, ’16) under his leadership.
Winning the state championship and getting attention from college recruiters for his players was always the goal for Hamilton, who estimated 70 percent of the seniors who played for him found themselves on college rosters.
A 1976 graduate of Ashland, Hamilton enjoyed a tremendous career at Morehead State University that included winning the Ohio Valley Conference Triple Crown before playing for the minor-league Paintsville Yankees. He was with the Yankees on the night that Darryl Strawberry made his professional debut with the Kingsport Mets in Paintsville, Ky. Despite hitting better than .300 for the Yankees, he felt the calling to coach and the rest, as they say, is history.
Hamilton elevated not only the way baseball was played in the 16th Region but brought it to a level the area hadn’t seen since Ashland dominated in the 1960s. He also was responsible for getting the Luther Craig Baseball Complex built at Boyd County with the help of Addington to become the envy of eastern Kentucky. Baseball fields began popping up throughout the region and Boyd County’s showplace was the reason why. As the places to play became special for other teams, the level of play began to rise too. It was either get better or get left behind because Hamilton was in it to win it every year.
His teams became known for excellence throughout the state and hundreds of his players – and even many who played against him -went on to become college baseball players and later coaches on a number of different levels. Hamilton moved to the highly competitive 12th Region with West Jessamine, but continued to produce baseball that rivaled anybody in the state. He was the ultimate teacher of the game.
Jody Hamilton was among the inaugural selections into the Ashland Baseball CP-1 Hall of Fame in 2015.
By the way, 37 had another significant meaning for No. 37. He and wife Denise have been married for 37 years. They have two children, Casey and Neena, two grandsons and a granddaughter on the way. Jody and Denise also have a healthy bee farm they tend to in Jessamine County.