Baseball comes easy for Josh Hamilton compared to the other stuff on the outside. Once the brightest amateur player in the nation while attending high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, it took the 29-year-old eight years to finally make it to the big leagues after being the top overall pick by Tampa Bay in the 1999 draft.
Sadly, drugs and alcohol side-tracked Hamilton, delaying his entry to the majors until he surfaced with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007.
That season, the hard swinging outfielder showed the promise that caught every scout’s eye, batting .292, with 19 home runs and 47 runs batted in across 90 games.
The stay was brief, only one year, as Hamilton was traded to the Texas Rangers in the winter of 2007.
Hamilton, with several tattoos on each arm, has found a home in the Lone Star state over the last three seasons, where he’s a folk hero and a three-time All-Star, and whose struggles and later redemption have been documented in a well-received book.
Through diligence and an abundance of talent, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Hamilton is having a season for the ages, pacing the majors in batting average (.353), hits (134), doubles (32), and total bases (239), and with designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, third baseman Michael Young, second baseman Ian Kinsler, and right fielder Nelson Cruz, have formed one of the most-dynamic and explosive hitting attacks along with the New York Yankees, and as such lead the American League West by seven games over the slumping Angels.
The left-handed hitting Hamilton, a left fielder, has also drilled a team-best 23 homers and a second-best 71 RBIs. To say that Hamilton is a much-feared hitter is akin to saying Paris Hilton is pretty.
Hamilton owns a .629 slugging percentage this season, second in the majors, and is getting on base at a .397 clip, good for fourth in the AL.
When Hamilton was facing his demons, the last thing on his mind was baseball, although this ultimately would be his salvation and his release. Because at Hamilton’s core and his essence, this is what he is, and what he does.
In Hamilton’s first season in Arlington, he drove in an astounding 130 runs, while batting .304, socking 32 home runs, 32 doubles, with a .530 slugging percentage.
For many that season, though, it was Hamilton’s awesome hitting display during the Home Run Derby before the All-Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium that people still remember and talk about – the sight of all those balls sailing high and deep into the New York night.
It seemed like Hamilton launched dozens of offerings into the third deck at the ball yard, bringing fans and All-Stars alike to their collective feet in total amazement. Many of the drives traveled more than 500 feet, and some close to 550 feet.
What followed in 2009 was a season in which Hamilton played in just 89 games, hitting a mere .268, with 10 homers and 54 RBIs.
That it took Hamilton so long to finally reach the big leagues is tragic, but he’s making the most of this opportunity.
Through last Sunday, Texas is 58-41, and with the addition of elite pitcher Cliff Lee, who was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Rangers, they’re going to be a real force once the playoffs begin.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.