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AP photo by Jeff Roberson / Mark Hamilton bats for the St. Louis Cardinals during a home game against the Colorado Rockies on Oct. 2, 2010.

NEW YORK — If he wanted, Mark Hamilton could show off his 2011 World Series championship ring at work.

The former fill-in first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals prefers to keep that prize safe at home.

"The surgical scrub tub — not the most conducive place to wear it," Hamilton said.

On Friday, under an accelerated schedule prompted by dire circumstances, the former Major League Baseball player is set to graduate a month early from medical school on Long Island.

Next stop for the 35-year-old rookie doctor: the first-hand fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in one of the hardest-hit areas in the world.

"I could get the call tomorrow that it's time to go in," Hamilton said this week. "I have had an incredible journey to becoming a doctor over the last four years, and not once did I think that I would find myself entering the field in a time like this."

Added Hamilton: "Over both my careers, it's the same thing. You've got a job to do, you're needed, do them to the best of your ability."

Hamilton made his MLB debut in late 2010 with the Cardinals and spent the first half of the following season in St. Louis as well. He subbed for slugger Albert Pujols a few times for the eventual World Series champs and even got a winning hit that ultimately helped the Cardinals squeeze into the playoffs by one game.

The left-handed hitter who played 47 games in the majors — after being released by the Cardinals in August 2012, he signed minor league deals with the Boston Red Sox and then the Atlanta Braves but never made it back to the top — will join another lineup once he leaves the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.

"That's a great story, what Mark's done. That'll be a high point at this period," said Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, Hamilton's manager with the Cards. "What he'll be doing, out there on the front lines helping people, that's really something."

Throughout baseball history, plenty of guys have drawn the nickname Doc, with Cy Young Award winners Dwight Gooden and Roy Halladay among them.

Far fewer have earned the title in the classroom, though the group who did includes Moonlight Graham, the real-life ballplayer turned doctor portrayed in the film "Field of Dreams." Perhaps the most prominent was Bobby Brown, an October star for the New York Yankees in the 1940s and '50s who also was a military veteran, president of the American League and longtime cardiologist.

It's a path Hamilton — who played college baseball at Tulane, as did Brown — planned on long ago.

"Academia was always important to me," Hamilton said. "I always felt like I was going to do this."

Hamilton comes from a family that has achieved success on and off the field. His brother played college soccer, his sister is a top equestrian and his grandfather was a basketball star in the forerunner of the NBA.

Hamilton's father, Stanley, was the longtime head of pathology and laboratory medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He currently holds the same position at the City of Hope center in Southern California.

"My dad jokes that the athletic ability skipped a generation," Hamilton said.

A 6-foot-4 power hitter, Hamilton helped the Green Wave reach the 2005 College World Series. The next year, he was a second-round draft pick by the Cardinals.

"Good size, live bat, good pop," La Russa remembered. "Good intelligence. He knew what was going on."

In September 2010, Hamilton got the call to the majors and posted his first two hits. In 2011, he stayed with St. Louis almost all the way to the All-Star break, used mostly as a pinch hitter.

Hamilton's highlight came on July 4 before a big crowd at Busch Stadium. Batting for ace Chris Carpenter with two outs and a runner on third in the eighth inning of a scoreless game, his infield single off Johnny Cueto gave the Cardinals a 1-0 win over Cincinnati.

His reward? An on-field pie in the face during the postgame celebration.

"Felt pretty good," he said.

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AP photo by Jeff Roberson / The St. Louis Cardinals' Mark Hamilton wipes his face after being hit with a shaving cream pie by teammate Colby Rasmus after delivering the winning RBI single in a 1-0 home victory over the Cincinnati Reds on July 4, 2011.

Within a week, Hamilton was sent back to Triple-A for good. After nine productive pro seasons that included more than 100 home runs in the minors, he was released in July 2014, three days before his 30th birthday.

Hamilton's final MLB stats, including time as a left fielder and designated hitter: 12-for-61 (.197) with three doubles, four RBIs and five runs. He also has that World Series ring, though he said he rarely wears it.

"I wasn't on the field when we won," he said. "In a way, I was part of it. In a way, I wasn't."

Hamilton plans to enter the field of interventional radiology. Before that, his first year as an internal medicine resident is certain to be dominated by the virus outbreak while managing patients admitted at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital in the Northwell Health system. He'll also spend elective weeks in intensive care units.

"My role in the COVID crisis will be considerably more involved once that starts," he said. "Entering the front lines straight out of school is daunting. But I'm ready, I'm prepared."

 

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