It was a bad night to be an atheist
by Ned Wicker
Josh Hamilton had a dream when he was a kid that he would be in Yankee Stadium in a Home Run Derby contest. A few years ago, when he was 27 years old and playing for the Texas Rangers, he had his dream come true and he put on the greatest display of power and consistency in the history of the event.
It wasn’t long ago that Hamilton wasn’t a professional baseball player at all. He was a cocaine and heroin addict. He had dropped out of baseball for three years. Once a prospect for the Tampa Bay Rays, Hamilton’s addiction cost him his job. The thrill of being at the ball park was not as great as the craving for the next high. Drafted in 1999, he started using after an auto accident in 2001.
Hamilton’s drug addiction led to a suspension by Major League Baseball for violation of the league's joint drug treatment and prevention program on February 18, 2004. On June 2, 2006 he was given permission to participate in extended Spring Training with Tampa Bay.
Later, on June 30, Major League Baseball gave him permission to play for the Rays’ Class A affiliate Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League. That was the start of his long road back. But Tampa Bay let him go and it didn’t look like he was coming back.
The Chicago Cubs acquired him in the 2007 Rule 5 Draft and immediately sold the contract to the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds took a flyer on him and he came through for them last year, hitting .292 in 90 games, with 19 homeruns and 47 runs batted in. Cincinnati traded him to Texas during the off-season.
That long road back came after a confrontation. Hamilton’s grandmother, Mary Holt, confronted him about his drug use. He says he has been clean since October 6, 2005, and he says “It’s a God thing.” He gives all credit to his Christian faith for bringing him through. Major League Baseball is pleased with his progress, but according to rules he submits a urine test three times a week, which he gladly supplies.
Trust is earned!
“He knows he’s an addict. He knows he has to be accountable,” said Rangers coach Johnny Narron. “He looks at those tests as a way to reassure people around him who had faith.” These days when Hamilton strolls to the plate during home games, the organist plays “Saved The Day,” by the Christian group Phillips, Craig and Dean.
The drama of the home run derby dream came true for Hamilton. There he was in Yankee Stadium, hitting 28 bombs in round one, including some over 500 feet, into the night to the delight of the fans and the ESPN audience.
It was an electric moment for baseball fans. It was also special for his old high school baseball coach, 71 year-old Clay Counsil, who was Hamilton’s batting practice pitcher for the night.
He was THANKFUL!
It was one of those moments. Hamilton told ESPN that he was thankful to God, to the Lord Jesus Christ. Even his opponent in the finals, Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins, was rooting for him, saying that the story needed a happy ending. Hamilton did not win, but as Tim Slinger of MLB.com wrote, “That story, of course, extended far beyond a diamond in The Bronx.
But in a sense, by "losing" after such a dominant start, Hamilton merely emphasized anew the quality that allowed him to sink to the personal depths of substance abuse before rising back to the top of the baseball mountain -- he is human.”
He had come through the tunnel of addiction and resumed his baseball career. He was given a national stage to celebrate his recovery and give thanks to God.
One of the television commentators summed it up best—“It’s a bad night for atheists.”