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Hamilton’s tale is flip side to Freese’s glory

11 February 2012 No Comment

The date of 10.27.11 instantly reached legendary status for St. Louis Cardinals baseball fans. In fact, the heroics of David Freese seem to emerge in some form at least once per day around the St. Louis area.

Every time I see highlights of Freese’s improbable, clutch, two-out, two-strike ninth-inning triple and his game-winning home run at 11:39 CT in the bottom of the 11th inning in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, I think of one thing: Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton.

Hamilton’s life story is mind-boggling, and his travails during the 2011 season alone are incredible. I’ve found his experiences to be unshakable for many reasons, and was reminded of all of this last week when it was publicized that he had endured a brief alcoholic relapse.

His story has much more depth than can be done sufficient justice in a simple blog post. But for those not familiar with Hamilton’s story, here is a basic summary: he was the best baseball player in America in the late 1990s. He was the very first pick (Tampa Bay) in the Major League Baseball Draft in 1999. Injuries, including those from an auto accident, followed by addictions to hard-core drugs (cocaine, heroin) short-circuited his MLB debut … by eight years.

Hamilton sobered up, trained hard and emerged, finally, as a major-league player for the Reds in 2007. He played well in limited action as a rookie, and was traded to the Rangers in 2008 and has shined in Texas since. Many sports observers feel his prodigious home-run derby performance in 2008 at Yankee Stadium to be one of the most amazing sports feats that they’ve ever witnessed. Hamilton hit an astonishing 28 home runs in the contest’s opening round. It was freakin’ unreal!

He won a batting title and league MVP in 2010. In 2011, Hamilton was involved in a fan’s fatal fall during a Texas home game, something unimaginably horrific. A father and son were attending the game, and the father fell to his death when trying to catch a ball that Hamilton had tossed to him in the stands. He fell over a railing. Of all people for this happen to, but Hamilton stayed in contact with the family and when the son and his mother returned to the Rangers’ ballpark in the 2011 postseason it was intensely emotional. And mildly redeeming, though I’m sure it is a perpetual pain for Hamilton.

These events are also why I thought it was only fitting and just when it appeared that Hamilton’s Roy Hobbs-like two-run home run in the top of the 10th inning was going to deliver Texas its first championship. He was playing through severe pain, just like Robert Redford in The Natural. But the Cards rallied again to tie the game, setting up Freese’s historic 11th-inning blast.

Hamilton is one of those substance abusers who cannot simply have a few drinks. He has to stay clean, or he falls apart. I don’t completely understand addiction, but I can easily wrap my head around it based on things I’ve done and seen. Hamilton’s faith, his primary driving force, is something I cannot relate to at all, but I do hope he can stay strong with whatever will work for him.

I want to see him play for many more years, and given that he has four daughters to care for, his story is better served as a heroic one … and not a tragic one.

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