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Between a rock and a hard plate

On June 2, 1999 the Tampa Bay Devil Rays drafted Josh Hamilton first overall in the Major League Baseball draft that year. He would not see action in the MLB until he was a member of the Cincinnati Reds in 2007. What happened? Before 200 career home runs, five consecutive All-Star games, 1,134 hits and an MVP season in 2010; where was Josh Hamilton?

The answer? A bad place. Who was he to be in a bad place? A blue chip prospect in high school who touched 97 mph from the mound surely couldn’t expect the peaks and valleys he’d venture through in his adult life. Hamilton’s journey began with a $4 million signing bonus. At 19 years old, Hamilton was recognized as 2000’s Minor League Player of the Year by USA Today.

Following his newly acquired wealth and accolades, Hamilton’s life took a turn. Hamilton, with his parents, suffered injuries from a car crash that caused him to miss most of the 2001 season. After batting .302 in 2000, Hamilton’s average dropped to .180 before being placed on the disabled list.

It was in this down time when Hamilton first began experimenting with substances. In 2002, Hamilton was sent to the Betty Ford Center, which would be first of his eight trips to drug rehabilitation facilities. Hamilton would go on to make two more trips to the DL that season before ultimately being suspended by the MLB.

Upon returning home to North Carolina, Hamilton was using cocaine daily. With nowhere else to go, and an addiction that could not be satisfied, Hamilton was taken in by his grandmother. This time began Hamilton’s long sought sobriety. By 2006 he was living sober in a Christian-based baseball facility in Florida. His sobriety then extended to seven months clean before returning to baseball.

After a quick stint with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Hamilton was picked third overall by the Chicago Cubs in the 2007 Rule 5 draft, and was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. In his rookie season with the Reds, the 26-year-old batted .292 and hit 19 home runs. In December 2007, Hamilton was traded to the Texas Rangers.

In 2008 Hamilton wasn’t redeemed, he gleamed. The 1999 first overall pick, in his second MLB season he batted .304, recorded 190 hits, 32 home runs and led the league with 130 runs batted in. This dominance earned Hamilton the first of his five All-Star appearances. Also in this season, he won the Home Run Derby by smashing a record 28 long balls in the first round. He won the silver slugger award that season as well.

2009 was a relapse season for Hamilton. While he maintained his sobriety with drugs, he fell off the wagon with alcohol. After three and a half years sober, Hamilton was falling once more. Stints to the DL cut his season short despite the All-Star selection. He finished the year with 10 home runs.

2010’s season was shortened due to injuries, but it was still one of his best. In 133 games, Hamilton hit 30 home runs and drove in 100 RBI’s. His major league best .359 batting average won him the American League MVP award. He was also the MVP of the American League Championship series after he hit four homers and six RBIs in a six-game series with the New York Yankees. Hamilton’s Texas Rangers would go on to lose in the World Series to the San Francisco Giants.

After two more successful seasons with the Texas Rangers (including a career high 43 home runs in 2012), Hamilton was signed to the contract every little leaguer dreams of. Following the 2012 season, Hamilton signed a five-year $125 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels. Hamilton would only hit 31 home runs with the club over the next two seasons before falling back into drug addiction. While recovering from shoulder surgery, Hamilton’s demons crept up on him once more. His relapse was self-reported to the MLB and this self-reporting saved Hamilton from suspension, but still had to leave baseball for rehabilitation once more.

Hamilton, following his admission, was traded back to the Texas Rangers. He hit eight home runs and appeared in 50 games for the club in 2015. Hamilton’s was retained by the Texas Rangers under minor league contract in 2017 but was released after experiencing a right knee injury during his rehabilitation. He is currently a free agent.

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