The View From Seat 113: Josh Hamilton, A Real-Life Superhero

Jerry Burnes@@JerryBurnesAnalyst IJuly 14, 2008

Josh Hamilton has power.

That was evidenced by his record 28 first-round home runs in the Home Run Derby on Monday night.

On the biggest stage in baseball, Yankee Stadium, Hamilton raised himself to superhero status by letting the baseball world see his amazing story flourish in front of our eyes.

But Hamilton possesses a type of power that can't be earned in the weight room or on the baseball.

He has willpower.

For those who don't know the story, Hamilton was the first overall pick of the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999. He performed well in the minor leagues, and his parents even quit their jobs to watch him play on the heels of his $3.96-million signing bonus.

In 2001, though, Hamilton began experimenting with, and abusing, drugs, and he entered his first rehab stint at age 20.

He played 56 games in 2002 with the Bakersfield Blaze, hitting .303 with nine home runs and 44 RBI. Injuries cut his season short.

In the spring of 2003, he was assigned to minor-league camp after consistently showing up late in Spring Training. He took the rest of the year off for personal reasons.

Hamilton then started failing drug tests and was suspended by Major League Baseball prior to the 2004 season. He was allowed to play again on July 2, 2006, but was never placed on Tampa's 40-man roster. They lost him to the Chicago Cubs in the Rule-Five Draft, and sold him to the Reds shortly after.

Hamilton made the Reds in 2007 and played in 90 games. He hit .292 with 19 home runs and 47 RBI. After the season, he was traded to the Texas Rangers, where he's had a breakout season.

At the break, Hamilton is hitting at a torrid pace with a .310 average, 21 home runs, and 95 RBI, making him an AL MVP frontrunner.

The superhero legend is coming to life.

Hamilton did not participate in baseball activities from the end of 2002 to 2006. He was in and out of rehab, occasionally visiting batting cages.

"I prayed to be spared another day of guilt and depression and addiction," Hamilton told ESPN's Tim Keown in 2007. "I couldn't continue living the life of a crack addict, and I couldn't stop, either. It was a horrible downward spiral that I had to pull out of, or die."

Hamilton used his willpower to put himself back in baseball.

It was up to him to determine his life's path. He could either get clean and return to baseball, or let five-tool talent go to waste and likely remain a drug addict.

Hamilton decided it was time to get clean and start hitting.

He credits his wife Katie, grandmother Mary Holt, and God for his comeback.

"How am I here? I can only shrug and say, 'It's a God thing,' It's the only possible explanation," Hamilton told Keown. "My wife, Katie, told me this day would come. At my lowest point, about three years ago, when I was wasting away to skin and bones and listening to nobody, she told me I'd be back playing baseball someday. She had no reason to believe in me."

Hamilton now relays his message not only through his success on the baseball field, but through his own experience as a drug addict.

He frequently answers a message board where troubled kids can ask him questions and talk to him about their experience, and his. He has talked to parents after games about their children. He speaks at schools, church events, and rehab institutes and tells his story, hoping he can do for others what others did for him.

Hamilton still battles his addiction and demons. He keeps a friend with him when he goes out at night, saying he doesn't trust himself still. But, in his mind, with his savior at his side, his demons stand no chance.

Monday night's Home Run Derby was an example.

Hamilton revealed during All-Star week that he had a dream about being in the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium. This was before anyone knew there would be a Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium.

That dream came true.

Hamilton wowed the crowd with towering home runs and a record-breaking performance of power.

It's the other kind of power that has made Josh Hamilton the story to follow in baseball this year. The power to avoid his demons and addiction and stay on track.

It's the power that was on full display in New York, for the whole world to see. A power that has humbled Hamilton to a point where his story is beyond baseball to him.

It's about his 26 tattoos, it's about recovery, it's about a life nearly wasted, it's about religion, and it's about his family.

"Baseball is third in my life right now, behind my relationship with God and my family," Hamilton told Keown. "Without the first two, baseball isn't even in the picture.

Believe me, I know."

Hamilton is now the hero to Marlins minor-league pitcher Jeff Allison, who looked to Hamilton for inspiration to get back into baseball.

Allison, also a former first-round pick trying to finish his battle with drug addiction, made the Single-A Florida State League All-Star game this year.

"Josh Hamilton made it. I can make it," Allison told Steve Buckley of The Boston Herald.

It's that kind of talk that puts Josh Hamilton above being just a baseball player.

It's that kind of talk that makes Josh Hamilton a superhero.


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