Authors: Josh Hamilton,Tim Keown
The names and identifying characteristics of some characters and
places in this book have been changed. However, all the stories herein are true.
Copyright © 2008 by Josh Hamilton
All rights reserved. Except as
permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval
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Summary: “Josh Hamilton
chronicles his comeback from drug and alcohol addiction to playing baseball in the major
leagues” — Provided by the publisher
First eBook Edition: October 2008
This book is dedicated to my beautiful wife, Katie:
For your unconditional love and support. You are an amazing wife, mother, and friend. I love you.
First and foremost, I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ for never leaving my side through the storms. Also for allowing me to have this platform so I can share the Message of Jesus, The Way, The Truth, and The Light.
To my wife: Katie, thank you for always being by my side through the tough times and the good. I thank you for my beautiful children: Julia, Sierra, and Michaela. I love you girls.
To my parents, Tony and Linda Hamilton: Thank you for all of your support and sacrifice over the years. Our hard work paid off!
To my father-in-law and mother-in-law, Michael and Janice Chadwick: Thank you for never giving up on me and for loving me from day one.
To Jason, my brother: Growing up, you were a great brother, who never told me I was too small or couldn’t accomplish anything. You are a good man, brother, and friend.
To my grandmother, Mary Holt: Thank you for the support over the years, especially when it seemed that everyone had given up on me, you took a chance. Thank you for telling me that I could when others had lost hope.
Roy Silver and Randy Holland at the Winning Inning, Clearwater, FL: Without you guys, I would not be the man I am today. Thank you for all you have done for me.
Johnny Narron: Thank you so much for your support. It means the world to me. You are so much more than a mentor, you are a true friend. I treasure our friendship and I’m truly thankful for you.
Jerry Narron: Thank you for being a part of my first year in the big leagues. You were a great manager and friend.
Steve Reed and Ken Gamble: Thank you for helping and guiding my family through the difficult times and for sticking with us over the last ten years. You are both such special people and we are blessed to know you.
Pastor Jimmy Carroll: Thank you for your prayers and for being there to support and love my family. God has given you so much wisdom and I’m extremely grateful for your willingness to share it.
To the Texas Rangers: Thank you for allowing me to be part of the Texas Family and its wonderful fans. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to play for such a wonderful organization, which is so supportive of my recovery.
To Richard Abate, my literary agent: Thank you for all your hard work and tenacity in making sure this process ran smoothly.
To Harry Helm, my editor at Hachette Book Group: Thank you for believing in this project and having the vision to push it through.
Lastly, thank you to everyone who prayed for me. I do not take that for granted. It means more to me than you’ll ever know. Prayer is one of the greatest gifts a person can give or receive.
There are sure to be more storms in life, but all of you have helped prepare me for them. Thank you so much! I love you all.
IN LATE JANUARY of 2006, on the spongy green grass of a former spring training stadium in Clearwater, Florida, I stood on a baseball field with a bat in my hands for the first time since I could remember. Clean and sober for more than four months, I was stringing together so many good days I was starting to believe I would never have another bad one.
My wife, Katie, was in the stands to watch me take batting practice that day. She had never seen me play baseball before, and all she knew of me as a ballplayer was my résumé — number-one pick in the 1999 draft, minor-league MVP, consensus choice as the best prospect in baseball. But those accolades were in the distant past, clouded by the self-destructive path my life had taken over the past four years. Katie and I had been married for a little more than two years, and in those two years I hadn’t swung a bat more than twice. She did not know me as a ballplayer. More than anything, my wife knew me as a flawed, sometimes-charming, sometimes-reckless drug addict.
But on this day she sat low in the stands on the third-base side of home plate to watch me take batting practice on the field with a group of seven or eight minor-league ballplayers whose agent had brought them to Jack Russell Stadium to get some work before spring training. I was the oddball of the group, the former phenom who hadn’t played for nearly three years, the one-time legend whose repeated suspensions for drug use had already set a major-league record.
I bounced around the field like a child, laughing and joking and inhaling the smell of the fresh-cut grass deep into my lungs. This must be what it feels like to be released from prison. The other players looked upon me warily, not knowing how to square my tattoo-filled body and sordid past with the giddy man standing before them.
I had regained most of the fifty-five pounds I had surrendered to my crack habit, and I was trying to regain the life I lost along the way. As I prepared to hit, I looked at Katie and smiled. I was attempting to win her back, to reconcile our fractured relationship after so much disappointment and loss. I felt like I was in high school again, trying to impress a girl.
The wind blew directly into the batter’s box from center field, strong enough to starch the flags in center field. The first few hitters drove low liners to the gaps and deep drives that were knocked down by the wind. To a man, they walked out of the cage muttering about the wind and complaining about how tough it was to hit under those conditions.
Katie was over there praying the whole time, worried that I was going to do poorly and somehow decide to give it up all over again. This was a pivotal moment, when I decided to put myself out there to salvage a career I had done everything to destroy. I could tell Katie was nervous, and I smiled from behind the batting cage and mouthed the words “Calm down, it’s okay.”
I hit last, and after a couple of swings I caught a groove. I was hitting balls all over the field, and more than a few over the fence. The guys milling around the cage stopped their conversations to lean on their bats and watch. This was what I used to live for — not the games or the money or anything else. I lived for the feeling I got when I stepped into the cage and everyone stopped what they were doing to watch and react. I lived to stand in that cage and pretend not to hear what they were saying when the ball rocketed off my bat and carried unimaginable distances. They whispered to each other, saying the same things I’d heard since high school.
The ball just sounds different off his bat. Did you see where that one went? This guy’s amazing.
It felt good to be back on a baseball field, and it felt good to be feeling good. I can’t overstate the lightness it created in me to wake up with a clear conscience and go to bed the same way. Every day was progress, building my body up instead of tearing it down, and taking each day as a gift from God.
It seemed like this gift — this special gift to play this game — hadn’t abandoned me after all.
When I finished hitting, the first thing Katie said was, “I felt sorry for those other guys.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Because they’re not very good.”
“Sure they are,” I said. “They’re all professional players. Some of those guys will be in the big leagues someday.”
“Well,” she said, completely innocent. “Compared to you, they aren’t very good.”
I turned my head and looked at her out of the corner of my eye, as if to say, “What did you expect?”
That was the moment it dawned on her. All those things she’d heard about my ability on the baseball field, all those things pro scouts said about me when I was the number-one pick in the 1999 draft, all those things that made the Tampa Bay Devil Rays give me a record $3.96 million bonus out of Athens Drive High School in Raleigh — all those things were true. They were every bit as true as the nightmare she had lived with me, her drug-addict husband, ever since we got married.
Her jaw dropped open for a moment as the realization struck her. I could see her running it through her head — what she had just witnessed coupled with the torment of the past two years. She clenched her jaw and play-punched me in the shoulder. “I’m glad I didn’t know this before now,” she said. “If I had known you were throwing away
kind of talent, I would have been so much angrier with you.”
THE MAN WATCHED silently, his arms crossed. He sat directly behind home plate, halfway up the concrete bleachers, a lone figure in the West Raleigh Exchange ballpark. I didn’t know who he was, or why he was there, but occasionally I’d catch my daddy glancing up at him from his spot on the field. They’d exchange polite nods like two men sharing a secret language.
I was practicing with my brother Jason’s team, like I always did. The team, made up of eleven- and twelve-year-olds, was coached by our father, Tony Hamilton. I was six at the time, almost seven. I ran around shagging balls and getting to hit at the end of practice. Jason — whom I always called “Bro” — was always encouraging to me when he probably could have told me to stay home or at least stay out of the way.
The day the man sat in the stands, I made a diving catch in the outfield that nobody could believe. I was running from right-center toward center field and diving till my body was parallel to the ground as I caught a ball about six inches off the ground.
I was six years younger than most of the players on Jason’s team, but I could do things on the field they couldn’t do. I lived to play ball, and I had precocious ability from the time I picked up a ball. Bro and I would play in the yard or across the street at the cemetery, and I refused to accept our age difference as a valid reason for his superiority. I couldn’t beat him — he’s four years older than I am, and four years is a huge age difference for a long, long time — but I always thought I could. Whatever we played, whether it was basketball or wiffle ball, I went into every game convinced this was going to be the day.
The time I spent practicing with Jason’s team was my favorite time of the week. My team, at the coach-pitch level, was not a challenge. When the season started, I was the typical little boy, thrilled to put on his baseball clothes and get to the season’s first practice. Once I got there, though, I was disappointed that my teammates couldn’t keep up.
My daddy coached my team, too, and my momma always came to our practices. After the second or third practice of my coach-pitch team, once we were in the car and nobody could hear, they told me they could tell I was easing up on my throws and maybe not swinging as hard as I could when I was taking batting practice.
“I don’t want to hurt anybody,” I told them.
They shook their heads. “You play the way you know how to play,” Daddy said. “Those other boys need to get used to catching balls that are thrown hard, and if you start trying to hit the ball so it won’t hurt anybody, you’re going to get into bad habits that’ll be hard to break. You need to be a leader and they’ll catch up.”
When I thought about it, I realized that Jason didn’t let up on me when we were playing together, and he was four years older. These guys were my age, so maybe they would get better and learn to react the way I did.
The next practice I threw as hard as I could, and it resulted in some missed throws and some tears. I got up there and hit the way I would if I was playing in the cemetery with Bro, and my teammates kept moving back till there was nobody in the infield. The parents watching shook their heads and started talking and laughing among themselves. They’d never seen such a little person do the things I could do.