Even on the good days such as Tuesday, Josh Hamilton will still think about the very bad ones. About the horrid depths he reached after falling from the pedestal as the then-Devil Rays' prized prospect, how drug use and repeated abuse imperiled his career and even his life, how close he came to never making it back on the baseball field at all.
But he found his faith and, with the Rays' help, his way, then eventually he refound the course that had been plotted and the person he was supposed to be: Playing in the big leagues, being an All-Star, leading his team to the World Series.
And Tuesday, winning an American League Most Valuable Player award.
"I would say there's a 99 percent chance that this would never happen. I mean, honestly, I think a lot of people would agree with that," Hamilton said on a conference call. "But it was a 100 percent chance this would never happen if I tried to do it on my own. And I think that's the most important thing I want to get across, is that I couldn't do it on my own. God made it all possible."
Hamilton's performance on the field — a major-league-best .369 average, 32 homers and 100 RBIs — turned the vote into not much of a race as he overcame the one negative of missing most of the final month due to injury.
Hamilton received 22 of 28 first-place votes, finishing comfortably ahead of Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, who received five, and New York's Robinson Cano. Toronto's Jose Bautista got the other first-place vote and finished fourth.
The Rays had three players in the top 12: third baseman Evan Longoria sixth (the highest finish by a Ray; Ben Zobrist was eighth in 2009); free agent outfielder Carl Crawford seventh (including a second-place vote, highest for any Ray, from Jim Ingraham of the Cleveland-area Times Herald); and free agent closer Rafael Soriano 12th (highest of any pitcher on the ballot).
Hamilton was expected to be a star for the Rays when they made him the first overall pick of the 1999 draft (with Crawford going in the second round). Early he was slowed by a series of injuries, then sidelined nearly four full years primarily due to drug-related suspensions.
The Rays got him back on the field briefly in June 2006 but made a mistake in losing him via the Rule 5 draft to the Reds, who made their own by trading him a season later to the Rangers, for whom Hamilton has since starred.
Hamilton said he holds on to the past not only to remind himself of where he came from but to maintain his priority on his faith.
"I think I'd lose sight of things if I didn't reflect," he said. " 'I' might start sneaking in there, a little ego might start sneaking in there, and that's one thing I don't want to happen. So I do reflect and think about where I was at my lowest time and how God brought me through that and sustained me since I started depending on him."
When Hamilton was asked during the season about winning the MVP, he said he'd trade it for the chance to get to the playoffs and win. Having gotten to do both — ousting the Rays and the Yankees (winning ALCS MVP honors) in leading the Rangers to their first World Series — then Tuesday getting what he called "an absolutely great honor" turned out pretty well.
"It's just awesome to think about where I am at this moment," he said, "and where I was."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.