Miguel Cabrera relapsed this week in his battle with alcoholism. He drank scotch in the presence of at least one police officer. He was charged with drunk driving and resisting arrest. He became national news. It was sad.
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Very soon, he will receive a lot of advice. In all likelihood, he has already. He will see doctors. He will meet with addiction experts. He will speak with Detroit Tigers officials. He will receive encouragement from his teammates.
They will offer reassuring words. They will outline plans. They will do everything they can to help. And yet, they can’t know precisely what it feels like to be Miguel Cabrera – to be one of the top five baseball players on the planet and have a documented history of substance abuse.
But there is a guy who gets it, in ways that the professionals cannot. He appreciates what it’s like to possess otherworldly baseball talent, while wearing the leaden vest of addiction. Every. Single. Day.
And if Cabrera wants to talk, he’s ready to listen.
“Absolutely,” Josh Hamilton said Friday.
What does it say about the power and fallibility of man that Hamilton and Cabrera are baseball’s best hitters outside of Albert Pujols?
Last summer and fall, fans and sportswriters debated the merits of one versus the other in the American League Most Valuable Player race. In the end, Hamilton won. Cabrera finished second.
But the two men have more in common than .300 batting averages.
Hamilton, a well-mannered wunderkind from North Carolina, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 amateur draft. Then addictions to cocaine and alcohol nearly ended his career. He required multiple stays in drug rehab centers. He reached the majors in 2007, after it appeared he never would. He still submits to a drug test three times each week.
Cabrera, meanwhile, had a reputation for heavy drinking dating back to his tenure with the Florida Marlins. But he managed to avoid a high-profile incident until October 2009, when he went on an all-night binge and hit his wife in a domestic dispute. Cabrera began an outpatient addiction treatment program soon afterward. He seemed to be improving.
The illusion was shattered on Wednesday night.
“People don’t get that we’re just ordinary people,” Hamilton said, on the day he reported to spring training with the Texas Rangers. “God gave us the talent to do a certain thing, to play a game for a living. We’re no different than they are. We have the same struggles, the same temptations, the same everything.
“Obviously, it’s covered more by media. So, that puts you in a broader view of the world. But we’re just regular people, man.”
Cabrera’s 2009 incident attracted national media attention. But Hamilton said he was unaware of Cabrera’s past substance abuse until his wife, Katie, told him of the arrest this week.
Still, the camaraderie among major leaguers could make Hamilton an especially empathetic resource for Cabrera now, as he seeks to rebuild his life and career.
“We talk whenever we see each other – at first base, at All-Star Games,” Hamilton said, when asked about his relationship with Cabrera. “He seems like a good guy. Big man. Big heart.
“I don’t need to know the whole story. I’d just share my testimony, what I’ve been through, how I’ve gotten through those things. Hopefully he could draw some strength through that, draw some ideas, maybe some wisdom.
“I feel like I’ve gone through what I’ve gone through for a reason – to be able to help people, no matter who it is.”
If Cabrera reaches out to Hamilton, he won’t be the first fellow player to do so. Hamilton said 10 to 12 players from around the big leagues have approached him for help with their substance abuse problems.
“I can just talk to them because I’ve been there,” he said. “I can give them advice that worked for me and continues to work for me. It’s cool to be in the position now where I can affect people outside the game and inside the game.”
Hamilton could tell Cabrera about how he reacted to a regression of his own. In 2009, Hamilton drank so much at a Tempe, Ariz., bar that he still doesn’t remember half of what he did. He thought he could have just one drink. He was wrong. “That broke me,” he said of the misstep. “I fell again. I was literally in tears – a broken man.”
He told his wife, the Rangers and Major League Baseball right away. But it didn’t become public until later that year, when Deadspin.com published photos of the incident.
Hamilton said he hasn’t come close to a relapse since. When I asked how he has been able to stay clean, he pointed his right index finger toward the sky.
“(My) relationship with Christ, to be honest with you,” Hamilton said. “Every time I’ve tried to do it on my own, I keep landing on my face. That’s the simplest answer, the best answer I can give you.”
Faith is integral to Hamilton’s story, but there are secular aspects that are applicable for those who don’t necessarily share his beliefs.
Rangers special assignment coach Johnny Narron functions as a companion/guardian for Hamilton when Katie doesn’t accompany him on the road. Narron takes care of Hamilton’s meal money. The two watch movies or play video games when Hamilton’s friends on the team decide to go out at night.
Narron typically stays next door or in an adjoining room at the team hotel. If Hamilton is in distress or simply wants to study the Bible, he knocks.
Cabrera might benefit from a similar influence in his life. At the very least, he owes it to himself to give Hamilton a call. Hamilton hasn’t beaten the addiction, because that is impossible. But he feels like he has a handle on it. He is thriving. He is smiling. He is winning. It can be done. And that is a powerful message for someone who just needs to stop losing control.