If you have not yet familiarized yourself with the rags to riches and back to rags story of Josh Hamilton’s life, stop and read this article here. This tale is one that I am only now beginning to see clearly, and it’s one I cannot help but be taken by just a bit. When you see Josh Hamilton play, you sympathize because you know there is simply human error in all of us. You realize that there just might be some of those same qualities of imperfection in yourself, and it is not often that we can diagram these similar flaws in character with professional athletes.
It’s been a long and winding journey for Josh. One that’s about as likely as a wish on a shooting star. How this one is so different, is because on the onset it seemed so certain. I mean here you have a guy that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays select with the #1 overall pick in the Major League Draft, one slot ahead of Josh Beckett, simply because Josh Hamilton ‘had the better character’. I remember reading the stories about Hamilton in Sports Illustrated. It was a few short years later, he was out of baseball, strung out on crack-cocaine, and while it wasn’t said outright, he was simply fighting for his life. Like he says, the only reason that he’s still alive is because he simply still has something left to do on this earth; and I believe in those kind of theories myself.
The long and winding path continued to spiral out of control, the journey continued down a path of darkness. Through tattoo parlors, and crack houses he found himself go from an overnight millionaire with loads of talent and a possible Hall of Fame career to finding himself on his granny’s doorstep, barely able to standup, and with no appetite to eat. It was then, said Hamilton that this journey began to even out. The path took an upswing towards the light out of the darkness again. It has continued on that meteoric rise, like only a superstar’s path could since then. You get the feeling that a mere ‘normal’ human would either be dead by now, or still slowly climbing out the mess of the life they were living–but they wouldn’t be in the big leagues.
I’ve heard many athletes say they’ve seen the light and they’re ‘born-again’ through Christ. You hear them say it and you wanna believe it’s real; with guys like Deion Sanders and Micheal Irvin being a few of those who come to mind. Somehow, when you hear Hamilton speak of the last tattoo he ever got, a cross on his calf, and you hear him talk about his faith now, it’s something very real. It’s something warm and tangible, something you buy into very easily. You’re not hearing Hollywood talk out of this guy, you’re simply hearing from the heart, good old truth.
I am proud to say I was there for the first major bright spot on the path back for Hamilton, opening day 2007. This 25 year old kid gets a standing ovation for some 20-something seconds before his first major league at-bat and climbs to the plate with poise like he’s done it 10,000 times. Once again, that feeling that keeps you rooting hard for Hamilton creeps in. This is a moment that should have occurred years ago, probably 3 at most. Now at the age of 25, he’s entering his prime years with no major league experience and nothing but the shirt on his back and raw talent on his side. As he came to the plate, I glanced over at my friend with myself already knowing the most important parts of Hamilton’s story, I said “he’s going to get a hit too.” Hamilton doesn’t dissapoint, hitting a line drive to left that sees him robbed of a hit in his first major league at-bat. The ovation comes back again, something that brings chills to you. I heard many people say it and it’s true: you just get the feeling that he appreciates were he’s been to get here more than most already in the Major Leagues, because of the depths of hell he’s climbed out of to make it.
The meteoric path of success continued on, in what would see Hamilton get his first major league start. In that start he got his first major league hit, a homerun. You begin to feel the chills again and begin to say to yourself, you know this isn’t a movie, because not even a hollywood script is this well written.
Then you start thinking of the other factors that have helped Hamilton’s path to success: marrying a preacher’s daughter. That very father-in-law became one of his best friends. He could have cared less about Josh the baseball player. He wanted to save Josh the human being’s life. You think about the Narron’s, and how ironic it was that Jerry was in place as manager of the Reds right now so his brother Johnny could step in and look out for Josh after the Reds chose to trade for Hamilton in the Rule 5 draft from the Chicago Cubs. You start thinking that maybe this isn’t just a run of the mill, feel good story, but maybe something even bigger. This just might be destiny showing us all what is possible if you’re willing to fight for it after failing once, twice, even 100 times.
Hamilton once had a corner with so few in it, and now when he comes to the plate there are literally thousands there. That is often the way of fame, it brings you the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and Hamilton has to know he might just be one more needle or one more high away from losing it all, including his life. Then right after that thought enters one’s mind, you seem to know not to worry–that Hamilton himself knows this. If nothing else, this kid has come through in the truly most desperate of situations, in his probably final and best chance to succeed as a ballplayer, and more importantly as a human on this earth.
I’ve been caught looking and falling in love with a story of a professional athlete before, but never like this one. Nah, this is one I’ll never forget. I just hope and pray that Hamilton’s stock continue to rise like a comet, as it has this first month, of his first season in the big leagues. After that thought, one gets the feeling that this is only the beginning.