The hamate bone is baseball’s version of the appendix or the wisdom tooth. Something that serves no purpose in the body, really, until it breaks, landing its owner on the DL. A small hooklike bone in the hand (from the Latin “hamus,” meaning “hook”), it can snap when the batter takes a swing.
This summer, it happened to three infield prospects with the Tulsa Drillers, the Colorado Rockies’ Double-A squad in the Texas League.
I call them the “three Hamigos.” First it was 2B Eric Young Jr. who was lost for several weeks early on, then SS Chris Nelson went down for more than two months, and finally utility IF/OF Corey Wimberly had to hang up his bat down the early-August stretch before undergoing surgery when the season ended.
That trio had been expected to comprise three-quarters of the Tulsa infield and pack a one-two-three punch atop the lineup, with Wimberly in the leadoff slot. (Thanks, BJ Germano, for the shots of Corey and EY from spring training as well as the other Corey pix here!)
Instead, out of a 140-game schedule, there were only 19 games where all three started, including the Aug. 7 game in which Wimberly started the game but left after one at-bat, signaling the end of his season when the pain became too much to bear.
The injury proved, perhaps, the most costly to Wimberly, since it left his status up in the air at season’s end, possibly costing him a spot on the Rockies’ 40-man roster (both Young and Nelson were added) and/or the chance at being selected by one of the other 29 organizations in the Rule 5 draft.
But the 5-foot-8 switch-hitter, taken in the sixth round of 2005 out of Alcorn State, wants people to know he is healthy, hungry and ready to go with spring training in Tucson around the corner.
His hitting acumen has never been a question. After batting .462 at Alcorn State to lead all NCAA Division I hitters prior to the draft, he batted .381 that summer at Casper in the Pioneer League. He also won a batting title in 2007 when he hit .407 in the Arizona Fall League.
Playing almost exclusively at second base over his last two seasons, he saw time at second, shortstop, third base and the outfield at Tulsa this summer to add to his versatility and resume.
A .312 career hitter, Wimberly was hitting .291 with a league-high (and career-best) 59 steals when he finally succumbed to the sore wrist that had been plaguing him for several weeks. His teammates and friends, Young and Nelson, had already unofficially diagnosed it as a broken hamate bone, thanks to their own sad experiences (for the switch-hitting Young, in fact, it was his second go-round with the surgery, one on each hand).
“It had bothered me for quite some time, I was getting it taped for a month prior to that,” recalled Wimberly, who led the Texas League in steals for two seasons running despite never playing more than 108 games (a hamstring injury sidelined him for part of 2007). “And I pretty much figured that’s what it was because it was such a different pain from anything I’d experienced before. And when (Young and Nelson) explained to me how the pain felt for them, it accurately described how I felt.”
The surgery and recovery period eradicated any hopes Wimberly had had of going to play winter ball, so instead he concentrated on rehabbing and relaxing so he could enjoy a healthy and productive 2009 season.
“I’m full speed ahead now, no pain, swinging well, running well, everything is good,” he said.
Had the thought crossed Wimberly’s mind that perhaps, as a switch-hitter, he might want to consider one-stop shopping and have both hamate bones removed, to avoid any chance of having to go through two separate operations and recovery periods the way his friend Young had to?
“That thought actually did run through my mind,” he said. “But I know a lot of the time the injury happens because you hold the bat too far down in the palm of your hand, so I think I can prevent it in the future by moving down on the bat. Any time you go under the knife there are risks.”
GotMiLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
CW: I’m really, really proud of being a role model and having people look up to me, coming where I’m from.
GotMiLB: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
CW: Snowboarding in Lake Tahoe. I probably shouldn’t be saying that but I wasn’t worried about getting hurt at the time. Me and a couple of my teammates went out.
GotMiLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
CW: I would have to say probably a coach of some sort. Maybe playing football.
GotMiLB: Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets aside from baseball?
CW: Playing chess. I like to read. And I love watching Keyshia Cole’s show. I’m obsessed with Keyshia Cole.
GotMiLB: Complete this sentence: It would surprise people to know that …
CW: I’m like a female when it comes to dressing, I change like four or five times before I go out.
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?
CW: Just the mental aspect of handling adversity and knowing that even though you may not be successful at one thing you can learn from it.
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors has surprised you the most, in comparison to what you might have imagined before you turned pro?
CW: The fact that things don’t always happen the way you want them to but if you keep going you can achieve those goals.
GotMiLB: What is the biggest misperception that people outside of baseball have about life in the minors?
CW: That I’m rich. People think that once they see your name on the Colorado Rockies, you’re making the same money as the guys on TV.
GotMiLB: Who is the most unusual character you’ve met in your pro baseball career?
CW: Christian Colonel. He’s such a fun guy to watch and he’s entertaining and a free spirit. He does whatever he wants to whenever he wants to and you never know what you’re going to get at any given time. He never offends anyone but you’ll never meet anyone quite like him.
GotMiLB: What is the one question you hope you never hear again?
CW: Anything dealing with a streak or about approaching a record because then you start thinking about it. It happened to me when I was in college because I was doing really good and a reporter asked me about it the day before I went into a slump, that if I kept hitting that way I’d break Rickie Weeks’ conference record for hitting. I knew what he’d hit the year before even though I tried not to look at stats and that got in my head a little bit.
GotMiLB: In your career, what has been your favorite road trip and why?
CW: Springfield, Missouri. I like to play there because they always have a full house and it gives you the taste of what it will be like in the future. They have great fans. They don’t heckle, they’re just about good baseball and they tell you if you do good no matter what team you’re on.