Rangers star Hamilton battles at bat and in life
He was the can’t-miss kid, a talent so prodigious that he may
have rewritten the record books had things gone according to
When cocaine meant more to Josh Hamilton than life itself,
though, baseball didn’t stand a chance.
”All I could think about was how to get and use more drugs,”
Hamilton said a few days ago. ”I mean, that’s all I cared about
and all I thought about.”
Blessed with tremendous ability, he was equally cursed by
tremendous desires. They almost cost him his career, and could have
cost him his life.
Instead, Hamilton batted third Thursday night for Texas,
managing a single in four at-bats as the Rangers dropped their
second straight to the Giants, 9-0. If his team comes back to win
the championship, though, he’ll be the one being doused on the
field with ginger ale instead of champagne.
He plays a game where failure comes easier than success. But his
time on the field may be the easiest part of a life he struggles to
live every day.
By now it’s become a routine, because a routine makes it that
much harder to stray. For a baseball player, the temptations of
life can often be magnified by the temptations of the road.
”You don’t necessarily wake up in the morning and think about
it – I’m not going to drink today or I’m not going to use drugs
today,” Hamilton said. ”You have things in place. You wake up in
the morning and pray. I do my Bible study in the morning and at
night when I get home. I listen to Christian music and country
music. There’s a lot of things I had to change as far as what I was
doing and what kind of life I was leading to make my life
The years it took him to change are lost forever, which one day
may cost him a place in baseball history. Hamilton is 29 now. The
alcohol and drugs that were so much a part of his life kept him out
of the major leagues far longer than Tampa Bay ever imagined when
it made him the No. 1 pick in 1999 and signed him to a $4 million
Watch what he did to the Yankees in the playoffs, though, and
it’s hard to believe that this is a guy who has barely played the
equivalent of three full years in the bigs.
The best player in baseball has just really started to play.
”I think that we might not give him enough credit for what he
has accomplished in a short period of time,” Rangers president
Nolan Ryan said before Game 2. ”The scouts are telling everybody,
don’t let Josh Hamilton beat you and don’t pitch to Josh
The Giants didn’t exactly follow that advice in the opener and
somehow managed to get away with it. Hamilton went hitless in four
at-bats before drawing a walk his final time up in a losing
Without their star, though, the Rangers wouldn’t even be here.
Hamilton carried them against the Yankees, batting .350 with four
home runs and so intimidating opposing pitchers that they issued
him an ALCS-record five intentional walks, including three in the
Game 6 clincher.
”He’s capable of doing this for many, many years into the
future, and I think the more he plays, the more he begins to
understand, and the better he will be,” manager Ron Washington
said. ”He makes our lineup go.”
What makes Hamilton go is a little more complex. By his own
count, his battles with addiction put him in and out of eight
different rehab centers and, as the years went on and the bonus
money ran out, he started thinking that maybe he would never play
But after serving several suspensions for positive drug tests in
the minor leagues, he finally made it to the majors with Cincinnati
in 2007. And now he’s the certain American League MVP after hitting
.359 with 32 home runs and 100 RBI in the regular season.
The temptations, though, remain. Hamilton had a relapse in a bar
in January of last year that came to light months later when
embarrassing pictures were posted online.
He doesn’t go out much now and, when he does, carries little
cash to reduce the chances he might head to a bar to spend it. His
idea of a big night on the road is hanging out and playing Xbox
with pitcher C.J. Wilson, who doesn’t party.
He understands how fortunate he’s been, and he doesn’t shy from
talking about it. In a way, it’s a form of therapy.
”I feel very blessed because a lot of folks don’t get second
chances,” Hamilton said. ”Drugs and alcohol, they kill. That’s as
simple as it gets. You know what it feels like to get high or to
drink. You know that little glimpse of (how) good it is. But think
of all the bad stuff that can come from it. Think about killing
somebody, waking up the next day not knowing what you did the night
before. All the bad consequences greatly outweigh that little bit
of feeling good.”
Hamilton’s teammates respect his battle so much they surprised
him by pulling out ginger ale to spray on their slugger when the
Rangers beat the Rays to open the playoffs. They sprayed him again
with the special bubbly after they upset the Yankees.
He’s the best player on the field in this World Series and, if
the Rangers win, he’ll almost surely be the one leading them to the
But that’s a few days down the road for a player who has no
choice but to take his days one at a time.
Until then, the ginger ale is on ice.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated
Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org