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Josh Hamilton not the true hero

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–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.

Hamilton mashed ball after ball out of the park, and turned in a performance that I might not have believed had I not witnessed the whole thing. By the time his first round was complete, he had sent 28 baseballs flying out of Yankee Stadium, smashing Bobby Abreu’s Home Run Derby record of 24 homers in a single round.

The showcase would have been impressive enough no matter the player. The fact that it was Hamilton doing this made it even more special.

Most baseball fans by now know Hamilton’s story. The top pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in the 1999 baseball draft, Hamilton received a plump $4 million signing bonus from the team. Everyone expected him to be a superstar. Cooperstown, here he comes.

But then the demons were unleashed. Hamilton wasted his millions on drugs, and earned a suspension from Major League Baseball in the process. His tattoo-stained arms are a constant reminder to him of the lifestyle that almost killed him. He got most of the tattoos while he was high on dope.

Hamilton seemed destined for the baseball scrap heap, his immense talent wasted so he could pursue a junkie’s life and die an early death.

But then God in His mercy spared Hamilton from that path. He saved the young man’s soul, and helped Hamilton straighten out his life. Last year, Hamilton returned to the game of baseball with the Cincinnati Reds and put up respectable numbers, before being traded to the Texas Rangers in the offseason.

This year, Hamilton has exploded. He’s hitting .310 with 21 home runs and 95 RBI after half the season. He’s on pace to put together one of the greatest offensive seasons in decades. And then last night, he forever earned a spot in Yankee Stadium lore with his home run heroics.

“It’s amazing over the past few years what God’s done in my life, and how quickly He’s done it,” Hamilton told ESPN’s Erin Andrews after his record-setting performance. “I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity.”

All the pundits are raving about Hamilton. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Jay Mariotti dubbed him “Comeback Player of All Time.” The Washington Post’s Dave Sheinan called him “a new folk hero.” 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.
Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. Write to him at [email protected].

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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