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Hamilton: From heroin to home run hero

NEW YORK (BP)–As Major League Baseball showcased its stars in famed Yankee Stadium, the player who emerged from the All-Star break as the biggest star of all, Texas Ranger outfielder Josh Hamilton, spent most of his time pointing to someone greater than himself.

Hamilton, whose career and his life were nearly ended by drug addiction, wowed the masses in person and on TV during Monday night’s Home Run Derby, but he used his national platform to give credit to God for his athletic ability.

“I can’t believe what God has done in my life and how quickly He has done it,” Hamilton told a national television audience after his record-shattering performance of 28 home runs in the first round, including three measuring more than 500 feet.

During Tuesday night’s All-Star game, Hamilton also added a sharp single and some speedy play in the outfield.

While he smiled and gladly accepted the praise of the crowds and his fellow players, Hamilton, much like Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy after his Super Bowl win, turned attention to the most important facet of his life.

“I just want to give thanks,” Hamilton said, pausing briefly in his nationally televised post-Home Run Derby interview, which was also played through the Yankee Stadium PA system, “to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and I want to seek to honor Him every day.”

People hearing Hamilton’s story of ruin and redemption often find it hard to believe.

But as Hamilton openly admits to anyone who asks, it’s all painfully and remarkably true.

He was the first-round draft choice in all of baseball by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999, but while his career looked promising he was becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol.

It ultimately cost him three years of play in the minor leagues, 2004-06, as he was suspended by Major League Baseball and never rose above Class A ball.

As his addiction to cocaine and heroin became worse, Hamilton recounted that he would wake up not knowing the person lying next to him and not remembering what he been doing with them.

The large tattoos which cover both arms are a painful and permanent reminder of his time away from baseball and his family.

“I made a series of bad decisions,” Hamilton told the national media in New York prior to the All-Star game. “I had a value system and knew right from wrong, but I made wrong decisions.”

Hamilton is quick to give appreciative credit to his praying wife Kathie and his family, along with his spiritual mentors including Rangers special assignment coach Johnny Narron.

When he finally landed back in baseball in 2006, he was briefly with the Rays, then the Chicago White Sox, who traded him to Cincinnati in 2007. He came to the Rangers in ’08 determined to make a difference on the field, but more importantly off the field with his life and actions.

Jim Sundberg, Rangers vice president of public relations and a fellow believer who has cheered Hamilton’s progress, said, “Sometimes you don’t ever know what a difference you can be or what a role model really is until you find the right situation.”

To remind himself of the power drug addition had over his life, Hamilton stays with Narron at all times at home in Texas (his wife and 1-year-old son stay at their off-season home) and on the road.

He never goes out anywhere by himself, taking all of his meals with Narron and rooming with him in Texas where they have nightly Bible studies when the Rangers are not playing.

Hamilton, who can be tested for drugs at any time without notice by Major League Baseball, only carries $10 or less at any time, with Narron taking care of all of his Ranger-supplied meal money and any other income.

Hamilton has become active in the Baseball Chapel and has shared his story of Christ’s change in his life not only with the Rangers but also local youth groups.

“God doesn’t give me anything I can’t handle,” he told the local Dallas newspaper.

“He’s definitely here for a reason,” teammate Ian Kinsler told the paper. “Only God knows that reason, and he’s let God take control of his life.”

Before they are introduced at every at-bat at the Ballpark at Arlington, Rangers players are given the opportunity to pick their own theme music to be played to the crowd.

Hamilton chose “Saved The Day” by Christian group Phillips, Craig & Dean which speaks about Christ’s incredible power of redemption.

While various national media outlets were quick to search for the physical power source behind Hamilton’s amazing show of power in Monday’s Home Run Derby, the 27-year-old from Raleigh, N.C., was only too happy to share his real power. ESPN commentator Rick Reilly listened to Hamilton’s story of renewal with God’s power in his life and then proclaimed to a national audience, ‘It’s a bad night to be an atheist.”
Art Stricklin is vice president of public relations for Marketplace Chaplains USA in Dallas and a regular contributor to Baptist Press.

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  • Art Stricklin