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Josh Hamilton – A Real "Feel Good" Story
July 27, 2008            Sean L. Chaplin
Josh Hamilton image by Mike James
Josh Hamilton, photographed by Mike James
For those of us who have been away from the States for a considerable amount of time, we miss all the "good" stuff that is going on with American sports. Scores are flashed on our favorite cable channels, as well as posted in most of the local papers, which by the way are excellent at passing on information on most American sports, however what we miss are the stories behind the scores and periodicals such as The American endeavor to fill in the gap that the scores don't tell us.

As well as subscribing to The American, I also receive a weekly sports magazine from a rather well known publication in the U.S. and the most recent edition had a sweet picture of the newest Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton on the cover blasting a home–run. Innocent enough, happens all the time in Major League Baseball, until one digs a little deeper to see that having Josh Hamilton on the cover of any magazine is utterly amazing after the hole he dug himself before his career ever got started.

Now I know that the sports landscape is littered with "feel good" stories of athletes that overcome adversity, drug addiction, poor lifestyle choices…the list goes on, only to make it big in their respective field, however Josh's story is a bit different. Drafted number one in 1999 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, he was chosen over some great players, including Boston pitcher Josh Beckett (he of the World Series MVP award), in no small part to what the Devil Rays considered his sixth tool, his character. Ironic in that the very reason he was drafted so highly was also the reason he eventually sunk to the depths of a drug addiction that was so severe that he went from weighing 230 pounds to only weighing 180 in a few short months. Shocking in that no–one predicted his demise, certainly not the Devil Rays, who thought they drafted a church going teenager who would kiss his grandmother before every home game he played in high school and was a five tool phenom who even pitched (he plays center field) and regularly threw his fastball at 96 mph while in high school.

He had never even dabbled in drugs or alcohol, that is until a tragic accident he was involved in with his mother where they were rammed into by a dump truck that had run a red light. Josh suffered a lower back injury that took its toll not in pain, but the down time the accident afforded him. Josh's parents had taken jobs in Florida to be nearer their son, however after the accident, they moved back to North Carolina so his mother could rehabilitate her injuries and so for the first time in his life, Josh was alone. He subsequently fell in with a bad crowd at a tattoo parlor near the Rays spring training site, a crowd that introduced Josh to cocaine, and the rest as they say was history. A downward spiral into drug and alcohol addiction that eventually led to his dismissal from the Rays after repeated failed drug tests before being given a second chance with the Chicago Cubs, who picked him up in the Rule 5 draft (if a player is not on the MLB teams 45 man roster, another team may acquire his rights via Rule 5) and eventually to Cincinnati via a trade.

Many baseball executives were shocked that Cincinnati would take such a huge gamble, however after an abbreviated season of 90 games, Josh hit .292 with 19 home runs and 47 RBI's as the Reds soon realized that they had a player who might bring fresh talent via a trade. Texas was just such a team – with an ageing center fielder, they desperately needed a young talent who would be able to man the position for the foreseeable future, which drove the club to enter trade negotiations for Hamilton.

After much haggling, the deal was sealed once the Rangers offered Edinson Volquez in return, a big deal in that he was the Rangers top prospect and a very good pitcher, much to the chagrin of Rangers fans who were sick of not having decent pitchers on the big league roster. A huge gamble for a franchise that does not have the best track record of making smart baseball decisions, however the Rangers did their homework and decided that Josh was worth the risk.

What the Rangers did not tell Josh until they started negotiating with him was that they planned on bringing his mentor, 56 year old Jerry Narron, with him to Arlington. Jerry is vital to Josh's recovery and spends almost every hour of the day with him and keeps his mind focused on baseball and not the temptations that are present at every stop. Jerry even receives Josh's per diem money on road trips, just to make sure he is not tempted to spend the money on vices. The difficulty in living a major league baseball players life must be difficult for a recovering addict, yet Josh is taking every conceivable step to ensure he is successful and by all accounts both the Rangers and Reds have won.

Fast forward to the All–Star weekend at Yankee stadium just a few short days ago, where the house that Ruth built is as quiet as a church. The home–run derby is in full swing, yet the fans are bored, that is until Josh steps to the plate. His pitcher is a hand–picked manager from a farm team Josh played on with the Devil Rays and was invited per Josh's request, and at his expense, for this very occasion as a thank you for loyal service. After a stint that lasted over 15 minutes, Josh had the stadium rocking and chanting his name after a display that included a record breaking 28 home runs, three of which traveled over 500ft in his first round performance.

Even though he eventually lost to Justin Marneau of the Twins, Josh was thrilled just to be there, with his family looking in attendance, especially after the rough road he traveled. He knows that his troubles are still lurking in the shadows and that he is only a short journey from falling back into addiction. The mere fact that he is so open and honest about his troubles is refreshing, as the multitude of journalist can attest from the repeated stories Josh is only too happy to convey about his low points, never once being short with anyone who is willing to listen to his message. What makes his turnaround so special is that he is playing at such a high level, finally living up to the promise he displayed back in 1999 as he chases an unprecedented triple crown as well as turning an entire franchise around, one that has had a losing mentality for many years now.

Here is a truly remarkable individual who is making lemonade out of the lemons he created for himself and at least from my perspective, to continued success in life as well as baseball. We can all learn from Josh and his ability to face his problems head on and continue to strive for excellence. Sure makes my problems seem a little less significant!

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