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Effort of Texas Rangers' Josh Hamilton worthy of praise

ARLINGTON, Texas — In years to come, there will be plenty of time to argue and lament. There will be days when you will want to question a franchise's wisdom and nights when you feel compelled to criticize a player's character.

Tampa Bay's role in this story will be depressing one moment and infuriating the next.

But not at this moment. Not during this World Series.

For now, just be happy for Josh Hamilton.

For, in a way, his redemption is now polished. His story is nearly complete. You see, it was five years ago this month that the recovery actually began. It was right around this moment when a skinny, dirty drug addict showed up at his grandmother's door in North Carolina, finally out of options and nearly devoid of hope.

So what you saw Saturday night in the middle of Game 3 of the World Series was a life coming full circle. In the fifth inning, in his 11th at-bat of the Series, Hamilton launched a ball deep into the Texas night.

It traveled high and long. It soared over the rightfield fence, beyond the bullpen and completely past the worst memories of his life. And as Hamilton rounded the bases, the theme from The Natural filled the air, along with the shouts of more than 50,000 fans.

"It's pretty sweet," said Hamilton, 29. "Crowd was good, fireworks were awesome, but that's what we try to do. I mean, we try to entertain folks."

So, let me ask, were you entertained?

Were you happy seeing this glorious moment in Texas and knowing that it should have been in Tampa Bay? Were you satisfied knowing the most talented player in Rays history never actually saw a single pitch in the big leagues with his original team?

"I think some people in Tampa are kind of upset that I'm doing this for somebody else and not for them," Hamilton said Saturday in a nearly empty Rangers clubhouse. "Obviously they invested time and money in me, and I understand that's how they might feel. I think it's probably mixed reviews for me there, don't you think?"

I tell him no. That my hope is nearly everyone would be pulling for him.

"I'm sure there are more people who feel good for me than not, but those may not be the ones I hear," he said. "I always say that when I hear people ripping on me in the outfield. There are 50 that are pulling for me, but you hear the five who are ripping on me."

If so, that's a shame.

For Hamilton's success is an affirmation of life, if not exactly a victory for the Rays.

Was it a mistake for Tampa Bay to let him get away?

Of course it was.

Did Hamilton essentially steal the $4 million bonus he got from the Rays?

Yeah, you could say that.

But how can you not appreciate someone who returns from a bottomless pit? How can you not root for someone who took years to get an upper hand on his demons?

Say whatever you want about the wisdom of his choices. Say he was ungrateful. He was weak. He was a damn fool. And I would not vigorously argue with any of those characterizations.

But the thing to remember is he was his own victim.

He was never a bad person. He was not violent, and he was not cruel. He might have caused his family heartache, and he might have disappointed his supporters, but even at his worst, his heart was never dark.

"Josh is probably one of the most grateful people you will ever meet," said Rangers backup Chris Davis, who often attends chapel services with Hamilton. "He's obviously been given a great talent and given a great gift, but for him it's not about the result on the field. It's more about life and how he can make a difference in other people's lives.

"You learn how to handle your battles one at a time, and you learn how to have an appreciation for defeat because you've been humbled and brought down to a point where you can't just rely on yourself. You have to rely on something else. You have to rely on God. I think he's proven that this year, and he's become a blessing to a lot of us."

The one thing we will never know is, how much did Hamilton miss because of his drug use?

And how much did we miss?

Would he have been in the majors with Tampa Bay in 2003 instead of 2007? After all, he was drafted in the same year and is essentially the same age as Carl Crawford. And Crawford was already at Tropicana Field by 2002.

Would Hamilton have record numbers by now? Would his start have been faster? Would his peak be higher? Would he be another Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriguez, the two hitters he was most often compared to when he was a high school senior?

"The confidence is just so high," hitting coach Clint Hurdle said. "There's no feeling at the plate of, 'I wonder if I can get a hit.' The way he's feeling, it's more like, 'What kind of hit am I going to get?'

"He's as good as anybody I've ever seen."

So appreciate what he is doing.

Be happy for him.

At least for today.

Effort of Texas Rangers' Josh Hamilton worthy of praise 10/31/10 [Last modified: Sunday, October 31, 2010 1:39pm]

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