The Texas Rangers’ Josh Hamilton, who the Tampa Bay Devil Rays drafted with the first overall pick in the 1999 Major League Baseball Draft, is currently batting .312, with 19 home runs, and a Major League-leading 80 RBI’s. Not to mention, he plays a very demanding centerfield position and plays it well. ‘Who cares?’ you might ask. But…do you know his story?

Early in his career, Hamilton was a blue-chip prospect until injuries and addiction plagued his career in 2001. Baseball fans today see his performances and wonder where this guy has been the last four years. Well, from 2002 until 2006, Hamilton did not play baseball at all. Let me repeat that: he didn’t play professional baseball whatsoever.

Hamilton and his mother were involved in a car accident prior to the 2001 season. The year 2001 was not a good one for Hamilton, who started to begin experimenting with drugs, but he attempted to rehab. He only played 27 games in the 2001 season, playing minor league baseball with Charleston and the Orlando Rays.

In 2002, he began his season with the Bakersfield Blaze and was playing well until his season ended prematurely due to lingering back and shoulder problems.

But, Hamilton never gave up, his love for the game and his desire to return to it was too strong to just lay down. Roy Silver, who owns a baseball academy in Florida, heard of Hamilton’s story and offered the use of his facilities if Hamilton agreed to work there.

Several months later, Hamilton tried to play with an independent league team, but Major League Baseball disallowed it. Hamilton was later allowed to work out with the Rays’ minor league players in 2006 after doctors influenced Major League baseball to allow it so that it might speed up his recovery.

After spending several months in the Rays’ minor league system, Hamilton was selected third overall in the MLB portion of the 2006 Rule 5 Draft by the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs then traded Hamilton to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for money. Hamilton batted well in spring training, and won a spot on the Reds opening day roster. The Reds planned to use Hamilton as a fourth outfielder, but he got his opportunity to start most of the time after an injury to Ryan Freel.

When Hamilton made his long-awaited Major League debut on April 2nd against the Chicago Cubs in a pinch-hit appearance, he received a 22-second standing ovation. He lined out to left field and he stayed in the game to play left field. As he was waiting to bat, Cubs’ catcher Michael Barrett (who surprisingly seems like a nice guy, even though he sucker punched A. J. Pierzynski) said “You deserve it, Josh. Take it all in, brother. I’m happy for you.”

In December of 2007, the Reds traded Hamilton to the Texas Rangers for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera. I must say that trade worked out pretty well for both teams, with Hamilton being mentioned among the best sluggers in the league and Volquez’ 2.08 ERA speaking for itself.

Hamilton, also known as ‘the Great Hambino’ and ‘Hambone,’ which is coincidently similar to my last name, has shown great courage and humbleness throughout his career. Hamilton simply stated "It’s a God thing" when asked to give a brief summary of his recovery. He doesn’t hide from the struggles he had with drugs and alcohol. Instead, he speaks to community groups and fans at many different functions; trying to have others learn from his past mistakes.

Bob Feller once said "Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”

About The Author

Tom Gambone is a Blast Magazine correspondent

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