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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Josh Hamilton

By now, every fan of Major League Baseball is familiar with Josh Hamilton. At age 29, he has established himself as one of the game's most dominant hitters. The power-hitting Texas Ranger center fielder hits for average, and he also has superior defensive skills.("Josh Hamilton,, 2010) His story is a tremendous vision of fame, fortune, and addiction. Any one of us could have fallen in life; however, Hamilton's fall was extremely swift and his landing was especially rough.

Joshua Holt Hamilton was born on May 21, 1981, in Raleigh, North Carolina. His parents, Linda, a top amateur softball player, and Tony, a baseball and football high school star, actually met on a baseball diamond and were married six months later. They had two boys, Josh and his older brother, Jason.

Tony spent every free moment grooming the careers of his two sons -- coaching, training, eating at concession stands. Tony was a demanding coach to his sons, doling out discipline hand-in-hand with advice.

And, everyone seemed happy to help Josh pursue his dream of becoming a top draft choice and then of becoming a pro baseball star. The young athlete ran track and played football and soccer in addition to baseball, but soon he pared down his participation to baseball exclusively. Tony would throw endless BP to his youngest son, with Linda shagging flies. Josh switched to wood bats when his teammates were using aluminum and also worked out with a medicine ball to strengthen his hands and wrists.

So, Josh became a picture-perfect athlete for the Jaguars. He was already being compared to Major League players such as Paul O'Neill since he had explosive power, great coordination, rippling muscles, and large and supple hands. Josh’s feet grew so large that he needed custom-made cleats. Josh stood 6–4 and weighed a rock-solid 200 pounds.

Josh came really into his own in 1998 during his junior season. His fastball reached 96 mph on the radar, and no one had ever seen a high-schooler with a quicker bat. His teammates nicknamed him “Hammer.” His famous and funny pre-game ritual was to change into his uniform in his ’89 Camaro, blasting Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Double Trouble” and “Brand New Key” by Melanie.

Then, during his senior year, for the second season in a row, Josh was honored as North Carolina’s Player of the Year. He assured himself status as the nation’s No. 1 high school prospect with a lights-out senior campaign. Never lacking for confidence, he had the word "Phenom" stenciled on one of his jackets. He backed up his bravado with another scintillating campaign, going 10-1 with a 0.46 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 75.1 innings. He was selected by USA Today as the High School Pitcher of the Year. Josh even made the cover of Baseball America.

His year, however, ended on a shocking note when Round Rock High School beat him in the state playoffs. In the extra-inning affair, Josh surrendered a season-high four runs and nine hits.That game gave Josh just a glimpse of the pressure he could expect to face in the majors. Round Rock fans spent the evening riding him mercilessly. Josh’s father, stationed in his customary seat next to the Spring dugout, was startled by the abuse hurled at his son. Knowing one day that Josh might be hearing it from 50,000 enemy fans, he was proud how well his boy handled himself.

Josh was a sure June 1999 draft Top 5 pick - a tremendous young man who actually kissed his grandmother before every game he played. The stage was set.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays picked Josh as the first choice "franchise player" over players like Barry Zito, Eric Munson, and Josh Beckett partly because of Josh's great makeup. He signed for a then-record $3.96 bonus. Josh appeared to be set for a life of two to three years in the minors, fifteen years in the majors, then a five year wait for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Josh joined the Princeton Pirates of the Appalachian League, where he tore the league up. The Rays bumped up Josh to Class-A Hudson Valley in August, where he led the Renegades to the NY-Penn League title, hitting .429 with a pair of homers and eight RBIs in the postseason. His parents were there for every game, having quit their jobs to travel through the minor leagues with their son

Josh opened the 2000 season with the Charleston River Dogs of the South Atlantic League. In this, his first full professional season, Josh finished with a .302 batting average and 13 homers, 61 RBIs and 14 stolen bases. He was the youngest player invited to the Futures Game and collected three hits in four at-bats to lead Team USA’s 3–2 victory. Josh was also the top player in the Southern League’s All-Star Game.

On the last day of July, Josh injured his right knee, tearing a later meniscus. This injury required season-ending arthroscopic surgery. Josh was still named the league’s co-MVP, sharing the honor with J.R. House. He was also voted Minor League Player of the Year by USA Today.

Josh was rated as the game’s top prospect by Baseball America in 2001. That February, he and his parents were in an accident, then their car was rammed by a truck that had run a red light. Josh suffered back injuries, and his mother was badly hurt. Linda and Tony returned home to Raleigh where she could get medical treatment. Josh, meanwhile, started the year with Class-AA Orlando, but his back never felt right . After 23 games, he went on the DL.

For the first time, at 20-years-old, Josh was alone in his life. With lots of time and money at his disposal, he began befriending a group that hung out at a tattoo shop in Bradenton, Florida. They weren’t bad guys, he has said, but they were into some bad things. Soon, Josh would be covered with tattoos, including tribal signs he didn’t understand and images of the devil and Jesus. He also began experimenting with drugs and alcohol for the first time in his life. "Tattoos became drinks. Drinks became powder. Powder became crack," said an anonymous relative of Hamilton.

Tampa Bay's management ordered Josh to see a sports psychologist. When he admitted he had tried drugs, he was shipped immediately to the Betty Ford Clinic. There, he says, doctors tried to convince him that his problems could be traced to his inability to sever ties with his parents and grow up independently. Josh got so angry he walked out of rehab.

Josh was sent back to Charleston when he came off the DL, and then tore a quadriceps muscle three games later and his season was over. A few months later, Tampa Bay assigned Josh to the Arizona Fall League. There, he hurt himself after just two games and went home. Meanwhile, his drinking and drug use continued.

In 2002, Josh found himself in Bakersfield playing Class-A ball again. His left shoulder and elbow were sore all year, and his back injury also kicked up. Limited primarily to DH duties, he hit .303 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs in 56 games. His season ended prematurely in July—the third straight year he failed to make it to the finish line. Tampa Bay set up a meeting with Dr. James Andrews, who later operated on Josh’s elbow and shoulder.

During spring training in 2003, Josh failed a drug test and was suspended. Unable to stay clean, he had his career officially put on hold. Every time he flunked a drug test, Major League Baseball tacked another 12 months onto his suspension. He returned to Raleigh but could not bring his life under control.

Finally, in 2004, Josh stopped taking drug tests altogether. At this point, he was out of baseball. Josh continued to drift in and out of rehab, wanting badly to kick his habits but unable to do so. Many a time he consumed enough cocaine and booze to kill a normal human being, but his amazing body pulled him through. Josh Hamilton, the All-American high school kid whose road to the future was paved with gold and whose potential was absolutely limitless, had became a self admitted drunken crackhead for three years.


Then, miraculously, Josh met Mike Chadwick, a businessman who lectured around the state on how he had beaten drugs and alcohol. Chadwick explained to Josh that he was in a life-and-death battle. Josh could either quit or die. Chadwick pointed out to Josh that he had advantages others like him did not. There was a group of good supportive people who cared about him and were not interested in baseball. This group eventually included Chadwick’s daughter, Katie, who had known Josh back in his high school days.

The relationship between Josh and his girlfriends Katie blossomed, and the two got married in the winter of '04. She had a daughter, Julia, from a previous marriage, and they decided to have a child of their own. Josh convinced Katie that he was clean, but soon he fell back into his old ways. Tony and Linda gave the couple the last $200,000 left from Josh’s bonus so they could buy a small house. Josh took the leftover cash and blew it on drugs.

Katie gave birth to a girl named Sierra in September of 2005. By then, Josh was smoking crack again. Katie had thrown him out of their house, and he had moved in with grandmother Mary. She was the only one left in the family willing to take him in.

On October 6, Josh vowed to give up drugs and alcohol. He had lost 50 pounds, and his complexion was ghostlike. Baseball was completely off his radar at this point. All that consumed Josh was his next high. Everything that was important to him was gone. He had hit rock bottom.

After Hamilton bottomed out, his friends and family stepped in, but after eight failed attempts at rehab, Hamilton thought he was going to die. "After one of his epic crack binges, he showed up at his grandmother's doorstep at 2 a.m.," Tim Keown, senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, who also wrote Josh Hamilton's biography, told ABC News. "She said, eventually, to him, 'I'm tired of seeing you kill yourself.'"(Sharyn Alfonsi, "Texas Ranger Crushed Addiction and Broke Home Run Record," ABC News, July 15 2008)


Josh shared some of his bad experiences.

"... there were nights I went to sleep in strange places praying I wouldn't wake up. After another night of bad decisions, I'd lie down with my heart speeding inside my chest like it was about to burst through the skin. My thinking was clouded, and my talent was one day closer to being totally wasted. I prayed to be spared another day of guilt and depression and addiction. I couldn't continue living the life of a crack addict, and I couldn't stop, either. It was a horrible downward spiral that I had to pull out of, or die. I lay there -- in a hot and dirty trailer in the North Carolina countryside, in a stranger's house, in the cab of my pickup -- and prayed the Lord would take me away from the nightmare my life had become."(Josh Hamilton (as told to Tim Keown), "I'm Proof That Hope Is Never Lost," ESPN The Magazine, July 5 2007)

At his lowest point, his wife Katie told Josh, "You're going to be back playing baseball, because there's a bigger plan for you."

Josh said, "I couldn't even look her in the eye. I said something like, 'Yeah, yeah, quit talking to me.'"

Now he realizes the point of his suffering. He continues, "There's a reason my prayers weren't answered during those dark, messed-up nights I spent scared out of my mind. There's a reason I have this blessed and unexpected opportunity to play baseball and tell people my story... Addiction is a humbling experience. Getting it under control is even more humbling. I got better for one reason: I surrendered. Instead of asking to be bailed out, instead of making deals with God by saying, "If you get me out of this mess, I'll stop doing what I'm doing," I asked for help. I wouldn't do that before. I'd been the Devil Rays' No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft, supposedly a five-tool prospect. I was a big, strong man, and I was supposed to be able to handle my problems myself. That didn't work out so well." (Josh Hamilton (as told to Tim Keown), "I'm Proof That Hope Is Never Lost," ESPN The Magazine, July 5 2007)

Articles about Josh began appearing in print and online. One of these stories reached the desk of Roy Silver, owner of The Winning Inning, a training academy that blends the fundamentals of baseball and Christianity. Silver invited Josh to join his staff and work his way back into the game., and Josh showed up at the The Winning Inning complex in Clearwater, Florida in January of 2006. He cleaned the restrooms and took care of the field. After his duties were completed, he was able to use the academy’s training facilities. Dead broke, he slept on an air mattress in an unused office.

After eight months of being clean and sober, Major League Baseball allowed Josh to get back on the field.

Josh played 15 games for one of his former clubs, Hudson Valley of the NY-Penn League. The Rays had to run Josh through waivers, where anyone could have claimed him for $20,000. There were no takers.

Tampa Bay still held his contract, which made the next turn of events a little surprising. After the '06 season, Josh was taken by the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft. Tampa Bay had decided to leave him off its 40-man roster, thinking no one would gamble on a player with his past. The team was wrong. Actually, Chicago's move was a pre-arranged deal with the Cincinnati Reds, who needed outfield depth. The Reds paid $100,000 to the Cubs for their third pick in the draft, which enabled Cincinnati to move up from #15, where the club might not have had a shot at Josh.

The Reds found Josh an around-the-clock companion to keep him out of trouble. Manager Jerry Narron suggested his brother John, a hitting instructor in the Milwaukee Brewers’ system. John had once coached Josh in youth-league basketball, and like Josh, he was deeply religious. The rest is history in the making.

Josh Hamilton told Esquire ("Josh Hamilton: What I've Learned," August 10 2009) the following:

I want to get across to kids that you can't expect to use drugs or alcohol and come back from it. You can't expect that. Because it's hard to do. I don't want to give them the impression, "Well, he did it."

The cocaine gave me that adrenaline rush. It was easy to keep doing it when I was away from baseball. Because not throwing somebody out -- not hearing that crowd build up, and then the play happens and they erupt -- that's why I kept going back to it and kept going back to it and kept going back to it.

For me to have done all that to my body for those four years, not doing nothing but tearing it down, and for God to allow me to keep the ability he gave me...I remember one time, I took -- in two days I took fifty-six Ecstasy pills. For a month after that, I'd get bad headaches and couldn't drive at night because headlights hurt my eyes. For that to correct itself, and to be 20/10 -- how can you explain that?

Josh Hamilton makes no excuses and places no blame on anyone other than himself. He takes responsibility for his poor decisions and believes his story can help millions who battle the same demons. "I have been given a platform to tell my story" he says. "I pray every night I am a good messenger."

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