Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Josh Hamilton

This isn't exactly timely, but I enjoyed reading Tim Ellsworth's account of Josh Hamilton's amazing performance in MLB's Home Run Derby over the All Star break, titled "Hamilton Not The True Hero":
By the time Josh Hamilton brought down the House That Ruth Built, my son Daniel was already in bed.

He and I had started watching the Home Run Derby a little earlier, and you could tell that Daniel was impressed. For 5-year-olds who are burgeoning baseball fans, home runs are a big deal.

So we watched as Dan Uggla, Grady Sizemore, Chase Utley and Evan Longoria took their turns. We counted the home runs they hit and the outs they made. I had to explain to Daniel more than once why they weren't running the bases.

Then it was bed time for him. After tucking him in, I returned to the living room intending to watch the rest of the show. That was before Hamilton, the Texas Rangers outfielder, stole it.


ESPN's Jayson Stark wrote that Hamilton had "an evening in Yankee Stadium that told a story that ought to restore our faith in mankind."

Fortunately, I recorded the entire thing. And tonight, I'll sit with Daniel and let him watch Hamilton's home run barrage for himself. He'll be impressed with the long home runs, and I fully expect to hear him exclaim, "Awesome!" multiple times.

As we watch, I'll undoubtedly tell him a little bit of Hamilton's story. And while I'll compliment Hamilton's ability, I'll tell Daniel that we should always remember from where his ability comes. For if we watch Hamilton play baseball, and marvel at him for how he has turned his life around, we miss the point entirely.

Hamilton is only a man – a man who has been incredibly gifted by God to play baseball, but a man nonetheless. As admirable as his successes are, he is not the real hero to the story. The real hero is the Lord, who is truly mighty to save. Hamilton is simply another piece of evidence that nobody is out of God's reach, and that no case is too desperate for God's saving grace.

Jayson Stark is wrong. Hamilton's accomplishment should do much more than "restore our faith in mankind." It ought to restore our faith in God.
If you're not familiar with Hamilton's story, I'd encourage you to read the whole thing. Or read Hamilton tell his story himself, from last July in ESPN the Magazine:
Addiction is a humbling experience. Getting it under control is even more humbling. I got better for one reason: I surrendered. Instead of asking to be bailed out, instead of making deals with God by saying, "If you get me out of this mess, I'll stop doing what I'm doing," I asked for help. I wouldn't do that before. I'd been the Devil Rays' No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft, supposedly a five-tool prospect. I was a big, strong man, and I was supposed to be able to handle my problems myself. That didn't work out so well.


This may sound crazy, but I wouldn't change a thing about my path to the big leagues. I wouldn't even change the 26 tattoos that cover so much of my body, even though they're the most obvious signs of my life temporarily leaving the tracks. You're probably thinking, Bad decisions and addiction almost cost him his life, and he wouldn't change anything? But if I hadn't gone through all the hard times, this whole story would be just about baseball. If I'd made the big leagues at 21 and made my first All-Star team at 23 and done all the things expected of me, I would be a big-time baseball player, and that's it.

Baseball is third in my life right now, behind my relationship with God and my family. Without the first two, baseball isn't even in the picture. Believe me, I know.


Within my first week of sobriety in October 2005 -- after I showed up at my grandmother's house in Raleigh in the middle of the night, coming off a crack binge -- I had the most haunting dream. I was fighting the devil, an awful-looking thing. I had a stick or a bat or something, and every time I hit the devil, he'd fall and get back up. Over and over I hit him, until I was exhausted and he was still standing.

I woke up in a sweat, as if I'd been truly fighting, and the terror that gripped me makes that dream feel real to this day. I'd been alone for so long, alone with the fears and emotions I worked so hard to kill. I'm not embarrassed to admit that after I woke up that night, I walked down the hall to my grandmother's room and crawled under the covers with her. The devil stayed out of my dreams for seven months after that. I stayed clean and worked hard and tried to put my marriage and my life back together. I got word in June 2006 that I'd been reinstated by Major League Baseball, and a few weeks afterward, the devil reappeared.

It was the same dream, with an important difference. I would hit him and he would bounce back up, the ugliest and most hideous creature you could imagine. This devil seemed unbeatable; I couldn't knock him out. But just when I felt like giving up, I felt a presence by my side. I turned my head and saw Jesus, battling alongside me. We kept fighting, and I was filled with strength. The devil didn't stand a chance.

You can doubt me, but I swear to you I dreamed it. When I woke up, I felt at peace. I wasn't scared. To me, the lesson was obvious: Alone, I couldn't win this battle. With Jesus, I couldn't lose.


But there is one story that sticks with me, so much so that I think of it every day. I was driving out of the players' parking lot at Great American Ball Park after a game in May, with Katie and our two girls. There's always a group of fans standing at the curb, hoping to get autographs, and I stop to sign as many as I can.

And on this particular night, a little boy of about 9 or 10, wearing a Reds cap, handed me a pen and something to sign. Nothing unusual there, but as I was writing the boy said, "Josh, you're my savior."

This stopped me. I looked at him and said, "Well, thank you. Do you know who my savior is?"

He thought for a minute. I could see the gears turning. Finally, he smiled and blurted out, "Jesus Christ." He said it like he'd just come up with the answer to a test. "That's exactly right," I said.

You see, I may not know how I got here from there, but every day I get a better understanding of why.

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