Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Josh Hamilton – the long road back

Josh Hamilton’s tale has been told time and time again. Hamilton, the first overall pick in the 1999 Major League Baseball Draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, was labeled a “can’t miss pick.” Shortly after the draft, Hamilton signed a contract that included a $3.96 million signing bonus. Hamilton never played for the Rays at the major league level, was suspended from baseball prior to the 2004 season. Drugs and alcohol proved to be Hamilton’s downfall; his life resembled a train wreck, great possibilities derailed by personal demons.

Out of baseball for the 2004, 2005 and most of the 2006 season, Hamilton returned to play for the Hudson Valley Renegades; the Rays single A (lowest minor league affiliate) in the New York Penn League.

The Rays washed their hands of Josh Hamilton after the 2006 season. He wasn’t on their 40-man Major League roster, exposing him at the 2006 Rule 5 MLB draft. Hamilton became Rule 5-eligible after the Rays failed to protect him. The Chicago Cubs made Hamilton the third overall pick in the 2006 Rule 5 draft and traded Hamilton to the Cincinnati Reds. On April 3, 2007, Josh Hamilton finally arrived in the major leagues.

Hamilton's struggles with drugs and alcohol have been well documented. Confronted by his grandmother, Mary Holt Hamilton in October 2005 (and out of baseball for two full seasons), Josh Hamilton decided to work through his drug and alcohol dependency.

When giving a brief summary of his recovery, Hamilton reflects: "It's a God thing."

He does not shy away from telling his story, speaking to community groups and fans at many functions. He frequently and publicly tells stories of how Jesus brought him back from the brink and that his faith is what keeps him going. Hamilton also wrote an autobiography called “Beyond Belief,” which explains how he quit drugs and alcohol and found a relationship with God.

To comply with the provisions of MLB's drug policy, Hamilton provides urine samples for drug testing at least three times per week.

Hamilton approaches the plate at Rangers home games to the song "Until the Whole World Hears" by Christian group Casting Crowns. In late 2008, Hamilton, among other celebrities such as Brian Welch and Greg Ellis, appeared in testimonial videos called "I Am Second," in which he shares his story of recovering from drug use with the help of his faith.

A portion of his return to sobriety was shown on The Learning Channel's reality show "The Real Deal.” Also, “A Home Run for Trademark” aired March 31, 2007, and chronicled the renovation of Shoeless Joe Jackson's house during 2006. Richard C. Davis, the owner of Trademark Properties hired Hamilton as the construction foreman. Davis was negotiating the purchase of a minor league baseball team and entertaining the idea of giving him a chance to join the team.

On the field Hamilton has enjoyed tremendous success and has been a key to the Rangers back to back American League 2010 and 2011 pennants.

In his fourth major league season, Hamilton put it all together – leading the Rangers to the 2010 World Series. Hamilton was selected as the American League most valuable player – finally – Josh Hamilton had arrived.

On July 7, 2011, during a home game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, a fan died while catching a foul ball tossed into the stands by Hamilton. The fan, Shannon Stone, leaned over the rail to catch the ball and fell 20 feet behind the scoreboard. He was transported to a hospital, but died on the way to the hospital.

Baseball players tossing baseballs to fans are part of every baseball game. That there was a terrible accident and that tragedy touched Josh Hamilton. It made a terrible incident that much worse. Those close to Hamilton were concerned he might relapse in July; a distraught Josh Hamilton managed to hold his life together.

The Rangers will pay Hamilton $13.75 million this year, after he was paid $8.75 million in 2011. He will become a free agent after the 2012 MLB season. Hamilton may have believed he was set to sign a multi-year contract worth more than $100 million, which isn’t likely now, following his alcohol relapse. Hamilton visited two bars in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Monday, January 30, 2012.

Hamilton spoke for about 12 minutes on Friday at a news conference at the Ballpark in Arlington, after which, he did not take questions. He said no drugs were involved in his alcohol relapse and he has had two drug tests since then. He also confirmed that teammate Ian Kinsler was with him at one point during the evening, but not when he was drinking.

"To everybody I hurt, everybody, fans, kids, people who have addictions who look up to me, I apologize," Hamilton said. "When you're doing this, you don't mean to hurt anybody. You're only hurting yourself. But as I know, I hurt a lot of people.

"I feel terrible about this, let a lot of people down. The last four days I really beat myself up. There's nobody that feels worse than I do. I'm going to do everything I can to lean on some shoulders so hopefully I can get back to the point where people will lean on me."

Hamilton and his agent Mike Moye have been discussing a long-term contract extension with the Rangers. Those discussions will be put on hold for now.

"It would be nice if we were talking about a (long-term) contract," Hamilton said. "We'll put that on the backburner for a while." With all due respect, the Rangers decision is in the best interest of their organization. Hamilton remains a key to the team’s on-field success; however, he’ll have to once again prove that the demons that chased him ten years ago have not returned.

Prior to the start of the 2009 season, he was found drinking heavily in a Tempe, Arizona bar just before Spring Training.

Hamilton immediately reported the 2009 incident, passed a drug test, underwent counseling and was not disciplined by the Rangers or Major League Baseball. There had been no reported incidents since then until word of another relapse last week.

"After this happens and praying about it, I cannot take a break from my recovery," Hamilton said. "My recovery is Christ. My recovery is an everyday process, because when I take that one day off, it leaves me open for that moment of weakness and it's always been that way."

The Rangers are prepared to do their part again to help Hamilton.

On Tuesday, the team announced they had hired Shayne Kelley, a longtime college baseball assistant coach and former strength coach in the Royals' Minor League system, to be a Major League staff assistant and the key person in Josh Hamilton's support system.

Kelley was hired after an extensive search that drew interest nationwide. He was recommended by Hamilton's agent, Michael Moye, and Rangers vice-president Chuck Morgan, whose son knew Kelley from their days together at the University of Alabama.

"We talked to a few people, but Shayne was at the top of our list," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "We had more interest in this position from people reaching out all over the country than all other positions combined since I have been here."

The Rangers were in the process of making a decision when Hamilton had a second relapse in his recovery from drugs and alcohol last week. Hamilton admitted to drinking in a Dallas bar last Monday but has not tested positive for drugs.

Kelley accompanied Hamilton to New York on Monday to be examined by doctors from Major League Baseball and the Players Association. Major League Baseball has not made a decision if Hamilton will be disciplined for what could be viewed as a violation of the terms for reinstatement from previous suspensions. He was not suspended after his first relapse in January of 2009. He missed 3 1/2 years in 2003-06 because of an ongoing addiction to drugs and alcohol.

"I haven't talked to anybody yet from Major League Baseball," Daniels said. "We'll defer to them."

Kelley replaced Johnny Narron, who filled the role of Hamilton's accountability partner since the Rangers acquired him from the Reds four years ago. Narron was hired earlier in the offseason by the Brewers to be their assistant hitting coach.

Like Narron, Kelley has an extensive baseball background and will be able to help the Major League staff in other areas.

Kelley was assistant baseball coach and team chaplain for the University of Alabama from 1996-99 and a Minor League strength and conditioning coach for the Royals from 1999-2001. He was also an assistant baseball coach at two other universities in Alabama: Samford and Jacksonville State. He spent last season as a high school baseball coach.

The term "accountability partner" has been used to describe this position, but Daniels said that's misleading. "I don't know where that came from ... Josh is accountable for himself," Daniels said. "Our aim is to support him and put him in a position to succeed. If you hire an interpreter for somebody, the guy is still responsible for what he says. Josh is still accountable for himself.”

God speed Josh Hamilton – in the game of life, far more important than the game of baseball will ever be.

Sources used in this Insider Report: Wikipedia and For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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