After re-reading Albert Chen's brilliant Sports Illustrated piece "The Super Natural", a humanizing piece about the Texas Rangers' All-Star slugger Josh Hamilton, I felt tears beginning to well up inside of me.
It is a story that has been told time and again for the past two seasons about a troubled youngster with all the talent in the world, who re-found Jesus and got his life back on track.
There is nothing particularly new or Earth-shattering in the article, but it did manage to hit home to me in a way that I did not expect. There was no one, particular reason for the rush of emotions that I felt, just a little piece of my own history on the page, and in my head that somehow hit close to home for me.
I already knew the story pretty well, I thought, and definitely followed him some as a wildly-talented high schooler coming out of high school in North Carolina in 1999.
There was a buzz in central Florida about this five-tool, can't-miss, once-in-a-lifetime, and other hyphen-necessary adjective, prospect who was destined to be a still new Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
He was going to bring his considerable talents to Tropicana Field and bring some true baseball passion to the central Florida baseball fans.
We all know what happened next.
The injuries, the whispers, the drinking, the rumors, the drugs. What really happened to the teenage phenom who had already been anointed as the next Roy Hobbs? Nobody really knew, yet everybody was talking about it.
His was a story that was almost tragically sad, yet the media and baseball fans around the country devoured it like a starving stray dog. The digital age was still in its growing stages then, but this story spread around the baseball community like a wildfire, the rumors growing exponentially with each retelling.
In Orlando in 2001, the common conception had something to do with a teenage boy with the world at his fingertips, away from home for the first time, and living the high life.
Everybody expected him to play that season with the Orlando Rays, Tampa Bay's AA affiliate that played at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.
After his accident and subsequent injuries, his season was cut short, and he only played the last month of the season with the Rays, mostly before lackluster crowds counted in the hundreds instead of thousands.
He did not do well down there, hitting only .180 and seemingly unhappy. He even complained about not wanting to see his average on the scoreboard unless he was hitting .200 or higher.
That's where I come in to the story.
In 2000 and 2001, I was a member of the game operations staff for the Orlando Rays home games at DWWS.
For a lifetime baseball fan and a former player who never had the talent to get paid to play, it was the best job in the world. In addition to doing game stats (not the official book, just for the scoreboard and video board), I ran the electronic scoreboard in the stadium.
We had one of those old-fashioned scoreboards where a person puts up the score by hand, but the average/at-bat, balls/strikes/outs, and hit/error were done from a console up in the PA booth. I loved that job, and took it very seriously, to the point of perfection.
There were times when I would get to chat with some of the players, but they were not my main focus. As you may have guessed, I was the guy who he complained was putting his batting average on the scoreboard.
Being not much older than Hamilton myself, and probably a bit too headstrong for my own good, I took it way too personally. I didn't tell him how to do his job, so he shouldn't tell me how to do mine.
My reply was that during spring training, Chipper Jones was hitting in the .160 neighborhood, and I never heard a peep out of him. If the reigning National League Most Valuable Player did not have a problem with it, then neither should this 20-year-old minor leaguer.
Now, none of this interaction happened directly between Hamilton and myself, rather it ran through the coaching staff and game-ops staff, but my stubbornness was steadfast. My leaders backed up my decision, but it all seems a little silly looking back on it now.
Would it really have killed me to give in to the player's wishes? No, not even a little bit. My stated reasoning for not doing it was a valid one, however. I wanted the fans who came to the game, as few as there may have been, to be able to see all available stats.
That's what baseball is, right?
Part of the reason why baseball is so relatable and timeless is the stats. But I, like Josh Hamilton, was a twenty-something, stubborn male, and I did not like to be told what to do.
It is because of memories like these that the Sports Illustrated article hit me so hard. I could relate with Josh Hamilton. I have not had nearly the same problems as he has, nor have I had to face the consequences as severely as he did.
But I have made my way through all of my problems with the guiding hand of a wonderfully supportive and loving family and friends.
As Josh has done, I have learned to admit when I have done something wrong, and try to lean on those loved ones for help whenever I need it most. Josh Hamilton did not just become a good person last season when he finally made his big-league debut with the Reds.
He was a good person all along. He just got a little lost as he tried to find his way in the world. That is the same thing that all people go through at some point in their lives.
That is what makes this modern day Josh Hamilton story a true all-American feel-good story. That is what makes me proud to have crossed paths with Josh Hamilton.
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