As Josh Hamilton stood at home plate taking in the cheers that came from the capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium that warm summer night in the Bronx he knew that this moment would live long in his memory and the history of baseball.
Hamilton, a 27-year-old outfielder with the Texas Rangers, had just crushed his 28th home run in the 23rd annual Home Run Derby, setting a new single round record.
While it might not seem like a big deal to those who consider anything associated with the All Star Game festivities a sham, for a player and a person such as Hamilton this could go down as arguably one of his greatest feats as a professional athlete.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Hamilton’s story, he was originally drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999 to the amateur draft. He spent two years in their minor league system.
In 2001, after an exhibition game, Hamilton was injured in a car accident when a dump truck ran a red light and smashed into his pickup truck which also contained both of his parents. The couple sustained serious injuries but was released from the hospital shortly after while Hamilton walked away injury free.
In the following weeks, he began to develop back pain which resulted in poor play and a batting average of .180. This prompted the team to place Hamilton on the disabled list, giving him a lot of free time. This complimented his $3.96 million signing bonus rather nicely.
However, unlike most athletes who buy cars and other material things, Hamilton turned to a darker hobby: narcotics.
He began to hang out at tattoo parlors where he purchased two tattoos a day, eventually totaling 26. His newfound friends exposed the then 20-year-old and one time High School Player of the Year to alcohol and cocaine.
Meanwhile the D-Rays believed that his depression was a result of the car accident and sent him to a sports psychologist with whom he discussed his cocaine experimentation. This resulted in the organization having to place Hamilton in the Betty Ford Center. His stay was short-lived as he signed himself out just eight days later.
This would begin Hamilton's cycle of going into and out of rehab as the head office in Tampa watched helplessly. In 2003, after failing to show at a mandatory drug test, Hamilton was suspended from the MLB. He left Florida and lived the life of a junkie until temporarily sobering up to get married.
He then had his first relapse and his wife discovered that Hamilton had advanced from cocaine to crack. He began lying and stealing from his wife and newborn daughter in order to feed his addiction.
He finally received the wake up call he had long needed thanks to his grandmother who told him that he was killing everyone around him with his actions.
Fast forward to 2006 when the MLB granted him permission to participate in spring training, thus allowing his reinstatement into the game he was born to play. His beloved Rays traded Hamilton away first to the Chicago Cubs and eventually to the Cincinnati Reds.
On August 2, 2007 Hamilton finally made his long awaited major league debut where he received a 22-second ovation from the Reds faithful. He quickly impressed many around the league and ended up being traded to the Rangers where he has batted .310 with 21 HRs and 95 RBI leading up to the All Star Weekend.
As those of us who watched the Home Run Derby saw, Josh Hamilton is the real deal and will most likely be a household name in the coming years. It has been a remarkable turnaround for someone who was once staring death in the face.
While he lost out to Justin Morneau in the final he did write his name in the baseball history books and it will be very interesting to see if anyone will ever top his feat at the House That Ruth Built.
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