He's 25 years old with 5 tool potential. Hitting over .500 for the Cincinnati Reds this spring and trying to win the 4th OF job. A married father of 2 daughters and a build meant to play the game of baseball. With a classic swing that reminds you of Will Clark in his prime, this former first pick overall in the 1999 draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Ray's name is Josh Hamilton. Oh yeah, he's also a drug addict.
I've sort of kept up with him since he came on the scene since he was born and raised around Raleigh, NC, about an hour from where I live. When he signed with the D-Rays, he got a $3.96 million dollar bonus, of which he has $85,000 left in the bank. The drug dealers got the rest.
His wife, Katie, left him in May 2005 because after being sober for 8 months, he decided to get plastered on his birthday. Not a wise decision, as he ended the night being arrested by the Cary, NC police department. According to Hamilton, when he drank, it eventually would always lead to drugs, with his first choice being crack. Before finally getting help, he was smoking crack like someone would smoke cigarettes: lighting one right off another.
When he hit rock bottom, he sought rehab and redemption: the redemption came in the form of a man named Ron Silver. Silver owns a baseball academy in Clearwater, FL, where Hamilton went to dry out. Silver welcomed him with open arms, with one caveat. Rent ain't free: Hamilton would need to work in order to stay. So the former multi-million dollar bonus baby mowed the grass, cleaned the john, and chalked the basepaths in order to hit off the tee, shag fly's, and run wind sprints. Apparently, it took. He rejoined the Devil Rays late last year, and in the last Rule V draft, the Reds took a chance on the former can't miss prospect.
Katie, seeing the real change, has since taken him back. He lives the life of an addict, day to day, but then again, don't we all. Baseball is his last refuge, and I just hope the game does not take him in just to spit him back out.
I was reminded of his story today, when I watched the Red Sox play the Reds. You could not draw up a ball player and it not come out looking like Josh Hamilton. Fluid, athletic, graceful, and confident: he has it all. It's like God struck his arm with a lightning bolt and said "Play ball kid: it was what you were born to do."
So far, it seems to be paying off: Hamilton has been the teams best hitter for all of Spring Training, manger Jerry Narron seems to love him, and hopefully he'll be the local boy who made good. I hope he can make it. I can't imagine living your life holding onto the edge with just your fingernails. I look at my 3 children, and I pray that they make the right decisions in life. I pray they never have to go through what this young man has went, and is still going through. While part of me hopes he is the rookie of the year, part of me is scared to death he makes it. How will he react with all the money and all the free time afforded to a Major League ball player?
Only God knows. I just know this: for the 2007 season, my main priority will be hoping the Boston Red Sox win it all again. A close second will be hoping the Carolina boy can pull it off.
Good luck Josh.
And God Bless.