He’s been called “The Little Engine that could.” Drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 1999 MLB Amateur Draft, Josh Hamilton seemed destined for … well, for exactly where is he now — the major league record books. But his journey from then to now has been as bumpy as the Appalachians he grew up around. Most of us are familiar with Hamilton’s story by now, but here’s a quick recap: In 2001, after two stellar years in the minor leagues and on the cusp of a major league gig with the Rays, Hamilton and his parents were injured in an auto accident. He suffered neck and back injuries, which left him unable to play. He began abusing drugs and alcohol during his rehabilitation. He tried to continue his career at the same time, but began skipping off-season training programs in order to satisfy his addiction. In 2004, he was suspended by the MLB for failing a drug test. The next year, after waking up from an all-night crack cocaine binge, Hamilton
stumbled to his grandmother’s house. She demanded that he get clean and he listened. conference and apologized to his fans, his teammates, and those who believed in him and reaffirmed his commitment to remaining clean.
stumbled to his grandmother’s house. She demanded that he get clean and he listened.On April 2, 2007, he made his major league debut with the Cincinnati Reds. He was traded to the Texas Rangers before the 2008 season and has become an All-Star and league leader in home runs, RBIs, and slugging in the years since. Hamilton has experienced relapse twice. First, in 2009, he was captured in photos at a Texas bar, shirtless, drunk, and partying with strangers. Then, just before the 2012 season began, he relapsed again at another bar. This time, he called teammate Ian Kinsler to come pick him up. The next day, he called a news
conference and apologized to his fans, his teammates, and those who believed in him and reaffirmed his commitment to remaining clean.Okay, now we’re all caught up. May 8 in Maryland, though, Hamilton cemented his place in the all-time record books. He did something that is more rare than pitching a perfect game and equally as rare as turning an unassisted triple play. Josh Hamilton hit four home runs in a single game. He’s only the sixteenth player in major league history to do that. Hamilton also hit a long ground-rule double that, had it been hit to left or right instead of center field, would’ve been a fifth home run. His eighteen total bases are an AL record. No doubt, he’s on top of the game now. But it’s been a long battle. Along the way, Hamilton has insisted — in Tebow-like form — that his firm Christian faith has guided his journey. At each news conference, in every TV interview, Hamilton deflects praise and offers it skyward. On May 9 on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, Hamilton was asked wide-ranging questions about his huge night, his relapse, and his reaction to critics. His responses illustrate just how far Hamilton has come in his rocky journey. “Baseball is always taking care of itself,” he said. “But after relapsing, it’s not about baseball. Because baseball’s going to be over someday. It’s not going to last forever. And it’s about quality of life after baseball.” Hamilton has fantastic perspective. In only his fifth year in the majors, Hamilton has already lived through higher highs and lower lows on and off the field than most athletes do in an entire career. But he also understands that his past
makes him an easy target for detractors. He hears jeers about booze, crack, and girls. Asked by Tony Kornheiser how comments like that affect him, Hamilton told a story and dropped some wisdom. “You know, I was in Minnesota in the outfield and I’m just getting absolutely worn out [by the fans], and the Holy Spirit just hits me in the chest and says, ‘these are the scoffers, these
are people who want to take your weaknesses and throw it in your face and tell you you’re not good enough or you’re not worth it.’ … So every once in awhile when the camera is on me and you see me looking up, I’m praying for those people who are yelling at me and screaming at me, asking God to forgive them.” What does Josh Hamilton’s journey teach us? It teaches us about humility. It teaches us about perseverance. It teaches us about the evil of addiction and the pure joy of beating it. Having experienced nearly every kind of artificial high, Josh Hamilton tells us that none of it compares to the real thing. The portion of his PTI interview that I found most heartening was his description of what he was feeling after hitting his record-tying homer. “The best part about last night was coming around second base after that fourth one and looking at the dugout and seeing your teammates … all of them congratulating and hugging you, it reminded you of when you were in little league and how much fun it was and what it’s all about. And that’s playing and having fun.” Josh Hamilton knows what he’s playing for. He’s playing for God and for himself and for those
who stuck with him and pulled him out of the deep abyss into which he let himself fall. A decade ago, Hamilton was probably the worst role model a parent could hope for for their kid to look up to. But now, after experiencing relapse twice and while he continues to battle the demons around him, his attitude and perspective have made him the player — and the man — he was always expected to be. And that’s something to admire.