Hamilton chose to be here

Posted 7/15/2008 by Will Bryan in Labels: , , , , ,
Redemption has a new face in the sports world, and Monday night was the climactic chapter in the Josh Hamilton story. The first-time All Star from the Texas Rangers set a new record by blasting 28 home runs in the first round of the Home Run Derby, nearly hitting several shots out of historic Yankee Stadium. Fatigue finally caught up to him and his designated pitcher and Hamilton fell in the championship round to Justin Morneau, but the damage had already been done. Hamilton had gone from the dregs of living on the edge of death to having his name chanted over and over in the condemned cathedral of all of baseball.

And while his story has been told countless times by reporters whose job it is to write about this every day of the week, I am here to tell you that this event was not inevitable. Sports writers often like to paint fascinating stories in a tinge of fatalism that implies that the events were preordained.

Davidson's amazing run through the Final Four was the destiny of the dedication of McKillop and the hunger of the underappreciated Stephen Curry. The Elite 8 in 08...it had to happen.

The Giants won an incredible Super Bowl because the Patriots simply had to lose...fate and the prayers of the '72 Dolphins were somehow more important than Coughlin's gameplan or Manning's determination.

But I will tell you this, Josh Hamilton did not have to be where he is now.

I first encountered Hamilton just a few weeks after being signed as the next huge star by the Tampa Devil Rays in the college draft. He came to single-A Charleston and underimpressed. He was swinging for the fences and popping the ball up. He missed routine fly balls by trying to make routine plays look difficult. And all of his tattoos seemed to betray a cocky punk.

Hamilton later had to leave baseball because of a hazardous addiction to drugs and alcohol. He was the oh-so-talented specimen who threw his life away with bad decisions. It should have been over for Hamilton because he only needed to make one more tiny decision: quit.

But he didn't.

One difficult decision led to another and Hamilton was in rehab. After going sober for several years, he broke back in with the Cincinnati Reds. That's when I saw him again.

This time Hamilton was playing for the Reds' AAA franchise against the Charlotte Knights. In his first three at-bats, he had three home runs. To center and opposite field. This was a player who had so much power that he didn't even need to get out and pull the ball to get it out of the park. He had lost his damaging ego and replaced it with determined confidence.

I knew on that night that Josh Hamilton was going to be one of the most remarkable comeback stories in Major League Baseball.

On Monday night, Hamilton capped off a league-leading first half of the baseball season by putting on a Home Run show unlike anything ever seen in the history of the Home Run derby. Hamilton did what sluggers like Aaron, McGwire, Bonds and Sosa have never done and he did it with a remarkable humility.

Hamilton's incredible success to this point comes not as some pre-ordained progression from ashes to gold, but rather is the simple consequence of a bunch of decisions. Hamilton chose to be where he is now, and his fortitude is impeccable.

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