On Feb. 3, 2012 reports surfaced that Texas Rangers MVP superstar outfielder Josh Hamilton had suffered another relapse. Anytime a professional athlete is reported to have taken a major step back in his career, fans assume the player suffered an injury or his stats have taken a sudden dive, but this is not the case with Hamilton. This is no pulled quad or a home run drought, but a matter of life and death, a matter of drugs and alcohol.
Aside from being one of the best baseball players in the world, there is something much deeper and much more important behind what meets the eye with Hamilton, who has won a Most Valuable Player award and is also a Home Run Derby champion. For any other player, those are lifetime milestones, but Hamilton knows that anything life gives him is a bonus, because honestly, Josh should be dead – and he knows it.
Josh Hamilton’s amazing up and down story began in 1999. All his life Josh was a baseball prodigy. When he was five, he played with eight year olds. When he was eight, he played with teenagers, and so forth. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected him with the first pick in the 1999 MLB draft, also handing the 18 year old a record $3.6 million dollar signing bonus. The Devil Rays and pretty much all of baseball assumed Hamilton was a sure thing for many years to come. Teenage Josh Hamilton was confident, strong, tough-minded, but also kind of a mama’s boy.
Still just a kid, Hamilton lived with his parents at home and on the road. They quit their jobs to follow their son on his journey to the big leagues. This drew criticism from the harsh public media, for obvious reasons. Number one overall pick, millions of dollars, now a professional athlete –but Josh was still maturing inside and out and preferred to stay close to his family as he did all his life back in Raleigh, North Carolina. Josh’s mother, Linda, cooked her son’s meals and father Tony would go over each game with his son in the evenings.
On the path to stardom, Josh Hamilton was rated the top prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America . The rising star was flying through the Devil Ray’s minor league system. However that February, Hamilton and his parents were involved in an automobile accident. Josh suffered minor injuries but his mother Linda returned home to Raleigh with Josh’s dad to receive proper medical treatment. At 20 years old, Josh Hamilton was on his own for the first time in his life.
Hamilton’s performance dipped dramatically in the following weeks. Speculation was that Josh could not survive in the world without constant guidance from his parents, but in reality Hamilton was dealing with nagging back pains from the accident, and he was put on the disabled list.
All his life, Hamilton played baseball. He was in love with the game, as all great players should be. (Outside of tennis) With an excess amount of cash and a lot of free time to fill, Josh Hamilton started hanging around with a group of people that hung out at tattoo shops in Bradenton, Florida. What do you think happens next? Honestly. Money, time, peer and public pressure, a young kid used to being sheltered…
…Hamilton pondered the idea of getting a tattoo, but knew his parents would not approve of such a decision. Teammate Carl Crawford talked him into just getting one tattoo, and perhaps constantly hanging around a tattoo shop may have also influenced his decision. In a matter of weeks, the top young player in all of baseball was covered in tattoos that featured tribal signs he didn’t understand and images of the devil and Jesus, who would ironically play a huge part in the coming years of Hamilton’s life.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays staff took notice of Josh’s new behavioral habits and suspected something was going on with their prized prospect. Management confronted Hamilton, who admitted to “trying drugs.” The Devil Rays immediately sent Hamilton to a rehabilitation clinic. The rehab staff expressed to an uneasy Hamilton that his actions may be a result from an inability to sever ties with his parents and live on his own. Angered, Josh Hamilton stormed out of rehab and returned to baseball.
The drug and alcohol use continued at an alarming rate, but so did baseball in a negative way. Hamilton’s body was tortured by his substance abuse and injuries piled up on the youngster – and another season was lost.
During Spring Training in 2003, a failed drug test resulted in a suspension for Hamilton. He continued to fail these tests and for every failure he was suspended another year. Hamilton returned home to Raleigh but could not keep his life under control. In 2004 Hamilton gave up drug testing altogether. Josh was disgusted with himself and his horrid lifestyle, but he simply couldn’t kick the addiction. On multiple occasions, the former childhood prodigy would consume enough cocaine and booze to end his life, but his amazing body pulled him through. But all those years of hard work to build that body would soon be put to waste. Until the Chadwicks.
Mike Chadwick had overcome drug and alcohol abuse, and he was outspoken in efforts to help others do the same. On a faithful night in 2004, the top selection in the 1999 MLB Draft showed up on Chadwick’s doorstep in horrible shape and desperate for help. Chadwick told Hamilton that he was in a simple battle; quit or die. Mike Chadwick helped Josh begin another recovery attempt that included a support group that coincidentally included his daughter Katie, who went to high school with Josh. Katie and the group cared not for Josh’s amazing baseball potential, but his living potential. His life.
Signs of progress were evident with Josh. He spent a lot of time with Katie, and eventually they fell in love and married in late 2004. Katie Chadwick truly believed in Josh as a person, a recovering addict, but she also wanted him to follow his dreams before drugs derailed his life – baseball.
Things soon fell apart. Josh Hamilton promised his wife that he was clean and convinced her that he was truly sober, but he fell back into his old ways. Josh’s parents gave the couple the last $200,000 left from Josh’s bonus so they could buy a small house. Josh took the leftover cash and blew it on drugs. Remaining hope was fading for Josh Hamilton…
To Be Continued…