A (Re)Lapse in Judgement

The beauty of sports can be found in the raw emotion of the game.

Emotion is found in your team’s success and failures.  As a fan, you grow an emotional attachment not only to the team itself, but also to individual players, coaches, and owners. 

A full range of emotions can be felt from game to game or from season to season, depending on the success of your team and the players that you have chosen to follow.  The ebbs and flows of this emotional roller coaster are a substantial part of what brings us back to the game; with eternal hope for the greatest joys that can be provided through triumph, giving us a chance to vicariously experience the greatest accomplishments.

Some players provide fans with a larger range of emotion than others.

Josh Hamilton has always been one of those players. 

As the news broke on Wednesday that Josh Hamilton had suffered a relapse, my mind raced as I sat at my computer to look for more information.  I was hoping it was just alcohol.  I was hoping that maybe he was just having an issue with the pain pills provided after his shoulder surgery. 

As CBS Sports broke the news that Hamilton had turned himself in for cocaine use, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach or betrayed by an old friend. 

I began to think only about baseball and rationalize the situation in cut and dry terms as a Rangers fan.

“Well, at least he isn’t our problem anymore.”

“This never would have happened if he stayed in Texas.”

“Should have seen this coming with his wife going into reality TV.”

“I hope MLB does not suspend him so the Angels are still stuck with that awful contract.”

I sat at my computer, rationalizing the issue, looking past what was really going on and quickly throwing Josh Hamilton under the bus as an idiot who should appreciate what he has been blessed with.  I mean, who in their right mind would not want to play baseball for a living, much less for a $125 million contract?

Then, as this wave of selfishness dissipated, I thought of Josh Hamilton the human being.  I stopped thinking about my allegiance to the Rangers and started thinking about what a horrible thing addiction is and how many people have fallen to its clutches in one way or another. 

My shock and disappointment rapidly turned to sadness.

Something about Hamilton provided a strange attachment to so many people.  People loved his story of recovery.  Fans went nuts over how long he hung around and signed autographs.  Non-baseball fans loved his constant vocalization of his religious beliefs.  Baseball purists loved the sound of the ball coming off of his bat or watching the length of his sweet swing. 

Josh Hamilton was a story of success, the exception to the rule, a real life version of a Disney sports movie; overcoming so much to find prosperity.

We bought in. 

A unique combination of events lead to fans forgetting the reality of everything Hamilton had been through.  With Josh, we became used to the weird; the Red Bull addiction, the issues with blue eyes, giving up tobacco, and the death of Shannon Stone.  The constant barrage of stories from every day Josh distracted greatly from the past of Josh. 

Glowing memories of Hamilton’s MVP season and of his homerun derby performance in New York had so much more power than the whispers of his mistakes.  Hamilton’s biography, Beyond Belief, offered a version of his story that left the reader believing that he had been cured of everything that had previously ailed him. 

Therein lies the problem. 

No one is ever truly cured of addiction.  No one.                   

Sure, people can beat addiction.  Addicts can improve themselves, avoid the situations where they will be tempted, or change their life to move on from their vices.  But the temptation is never completely gone and no one is actually cured. 

The treatment of those with addiction or mental health issues in this country is far different than in so many others.  We treat these as if they are a taboo; we ignore them, we laugh at them, we place blame.  So often when these issues fall on an athlete or celebrity, we are so quick to judge them and find ourselves unable to understand how someone of such privilege cannot keep their life together.  We tend to only look at the positives of their life, unable to, or even unwilling to, step back and look at the possible negative aspects as well. 

Do you honestly think that a line of cocaine is more important to Josh Hamilton than baseball, his family, or the $90 million he has left on his contract?  Do you think that Johnny Manziel would willingly pick a bottle of liquor over a second Heisman?  Do you think Phillip Seymour Hoffman preferred heroin to an Oscar?

No.

Of course not. 

Yet these things are a running joke to us. 

According to drugabuse.gov, a recovering alcoholic gives up alcohol without relapse 1 in 36 times.  One in thirty-six!  A cocaine addict is successful without relapse 6.8% of the time.  These numbers are astonishing. 

You know what else these numbers are?  Completely and totally blind to your career, your financial status, and your celebrity. 

Josh Hamilton is an addict, he will openly admit it.  The Rangers knew it.  The Angels knew it.  We know it as fans.  The odds are stacked against him. 

As Hamilton took me through my range of sports emotions today, I came full-circle by finding the tiniest beacon of hope. 

Josh Hamilton did not fail a drug test, he called the MLB compliance office and turned himself in.  It sounds cliché, but the first step is admitting.  If you join an addiction group, one of the biggest things they teach you is to admit when you slip up, to own your mistakes.  Apparently, Josh Hamilton did just that. 

At this point, as a baseball fan, I think the Josh Hamilton that gave us so much joy in Arlington is gone.  The joy of seeing someone who could debatably be the best player on the planet no longer exists.  It’s time to give up on that hope. 

Instead, let’s wish that Josh Hamilton, the human being, beats this.  Let’s desire that a person who once provided us elation and optimism finds those very things within his own life, without the help of substances.  If Josh Hamilton never sees another pitch, but leads a happy, clean life, it is just fine with me, and by no means am I saying that as a scorned fan.

Get better, Josh.  Do whatever it takes. 

One More Strike

According to Terrance Mann, the James Earl Jones played character in Field of Dreams, “baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

As accurate as this quote is for the extensive history of the game of baseball, it also rings true for the lives of so many fans. 

I am proud to be one of those fans and excited that the next step with my ever-evolving relationship with the game of baseball will be with One Strike Away and the ESPN SweetSpot Network. 

The game of baseball has always been a huge part of my life, starting with some of the happiest memories of my childhood.  As I moved to a new town in the third grade, I quickly latched on to other boys who traded baseball cards; checking values and making trades as if I was the general manager of a team.  My prized card in the collection?  A 1969 Topps Nolan Ryan card. 

As I began to adjust to small town life, I found that my play on the baseball field helped my social life much more than my growing binder of Ryan cards ever would.  The countless hours spent throwing a baseball at a tire in the backyard while pretending to be Nolan translated into an obsession that opened many doors in my life, with the baseball field providing so many of my greatest memories in both high school and college. 

Baseball is a game of ebbs and flows, a game of mental strength and endurance, and a game of hope.  So many of the events of my life can be carefully marked by coinciding events of the Texas Rangers and either the joy, hope, or sorrow that my team was providing. 

1999 was the year of my high school graduation, but it will always be remembered for the Rangers’ American League West Championship and the playoff drought that would follow. 2001 was my last year of playing competitive baseball, but will forever be further marred by being the year the Rangers sold their souls to Alex Rodriguez.  My son was born in 2010, but whenever I hear anyone reference that year, I immediately think of the World Series. 

Not only has baseball “marked the time” in my life, but every time I watch a game or step on a field, I am clearly reminded of “all that once was good and it could be again”.  I am fortunate enough to have an opportunity to coach high school baseball and help instill the joy, memories, and life lessons that the game has to offer to the next generation of baseball addicts. I hope to give something back to a game that has given me so much and am constantly looking for new avenues to stay involved within baseball. 

One Strike Away is providing me with my newest avenue and I greatly look forward to having the opportunity to make more memories with Texas Rangers baseball. 

My greatest memory as a fan of the Texas Rangers actually came from a loss.  Saturday, July 10, 2010, in a game that I was able to watch due to local Baltimore Orioles coverage here in Virginia, I was able to lean back in a hospital recliner with my son, who was not even a full day old at this point, and watch our first baseball game together.  I remember seeing Cliff Lee take the field in a Rangers uniform for the first time and thinking, “Wow, we’ve got something special and amazing here”, then looking down at my son and knowing the same was true with him. 

Of course I knew my son was special.  After all, I did just name him Nolan.  

Monday Morning Rangers Strikes

What if Yoan Moncada were to wait until mid-summer to sign with a team, and Texas was able to jump in on him? Have you ever thought about it?

  • Neftali Feliz apparently looked sharp in his first bullpen session. For what it's worth, I feel like the bullpen -- while mostly unheralded -- has an opportunity to be a real strength for the 2015 ball club. I'm not sure that's the popular opinion, but there it is.
     
  • Speaking of the bullpen, Michael Kirkman already finds himself at a disadvantage as far as earning a roster spot is concerned. In camp on a minor league deal, Kirkman is dealing with some shoulder soreness and will be sidelined for at least a week. Despite his command problems, the Rangers have been patient with Kirkman because they love his makeup. Now, they'd be thrilled if he were able to finally deliver something tangible on the field, and apparently want to be cautious with one of the only left-handed relievers in camp.
     
  • Ryan Rua will be focusing on left field during Spring Training. As has been mentioned before, he appears to be the "favorite" to win the job.
     
  • Yu Darvish threw this weekend, and his elbow is fine. Unless you were of the belief that Yu Darvish should have been pitching unless his arm was shattered to pieces, this is likely not news to you. However, if you really believe that Darvish "quit" in 2014, then I suppose this is a revelation of sorts, in some sick and twisted way.
     
  • Joey Gallo is focusing on playing 3rd base right now, and Jeff Banister doesn't expect that to change during Spring Training.
     
  • The Rangers don't want Adrian Beltre's potential 2016 roster option to be hanging around all season. Given that his contract has been a huge win for the organization -- especially at how many claimed it was awful because, "Hey, Scott Boras client" -- it wouldn't be too surprising if Texas looks for a way to make sure that Beltre retires a Ranger and eventually goes in the Hall of Fame wearing a Texas "T". He may not be able to keep playing forever, but I don't think Texas wants him playing anywhere else, either.

Jurickson Profar Is Down, Not Out

The point of every major league farm system is to better the big league team. Sometimes prospects turn into homegrown stars, sometimes they are traded for a franchise-altering frontline pitcher, or a cleanup hitter. And sometimes, they get injured and miss a shitload of time.

Right now Jurickson Profar is injured. He is not finished.

He's injured. 

I'm not going to call this an organizational failure, as Brandon does, because there are a ton of layers to this. My vantage point is so far removed that it would be foolish to even pretend like the answer to this riddle is so simple. 

Last March, Profar was diagnosed with a strained teres major in his throwing shoulder. Because of the slim history of teres major injures -- Will Carroll mentioned yesterday on MLB Network that the only player, ever, with the same injury as Profar is Clayton Kershaw, who missed a month last year due to the strain -- it did not seem particularly serious, at least not in the worst case, career-threatening way. I mean, Kershaw went on to win the Cy Young Award; he seemed to recover just fine. After consulting with some of the country's best doctors last spring, the Rangers decided surgery was unnecessary to fix something so unserious. 

Obviously, as we know now, Profar had a couple setbacks during the 2014 season and missed its entirety. 

In December, Jurickson rejected surgery, ultimately deciding to play it out and see what happens. And, well, now we all see what happened.

Unfortunately, unless, as Jeff Wilson notes, "only [Jurickson's] labrum is fixed, he could play in 2015," then the reality is he will have missed two years of playing time, and he'll be eligible for Super Two status next winter, meaning the Rangers will pay him arbitration figures for 341 career plate appearances. 

There has been much criticism, a lot of unfair criticism, actually, that the Texas Rangers somehow willfully did this to themselves. That they should have sat Jurickson down last spring, before the severity of the injury really manifested itself, and forced him to get surgery right then and there. 

In retrospect, would that have changed anything? Probably. Maybe Profar only misses 2014 and is ready to go right now. But is it fair to say the Rangers and all its doctors -- as well as other doctors they consulted -- made a grave mistake by not acting sooner? I don't believe it is. There is too much grey area to consider. It would be different if this was a torn ACL or a blown out elbow; those injuries are cut and dry. Jurickson Profar's is so rare, and there's so little evidence suggesting the ramifications of surgery vs. rehab, that I don't think there was any right answer at that time. 

Lastly, I do think the human element needs to be taken into account. Let's realize, for a second, that the Rangers signed Profar out of Curaçao when he was 16. They've probably scouted him since he was 13 or 14 years old. They have a relationship with this kid who is now a man. If ever there was an injury he incurred where they believed his career was in jeopardy, they would clearly advise him to take a certain route. He is too important to the organization to be treated otherwise. In December, they gave him the power to either opt for surgery or try to play it out, and he lost his gamble. Either way he would have missed 2015. 

I think we can all agree that this is devastating news, for Jurickson and the Rangers and all of us, so I'm just going to leave it at that before playing the revisionist card. There is simply not enough information on teres major injuries to blame Texas last March, or Profar himself in December, with how this terrible outcome came about. 

Jurickson Profar's Latest Setback

First, a timetable:

  • In March of 2014, it was announced that Jurickson Profar would miss 10-12 weeks with a shoulder injury. Specifically, a tear in the teres major muscle in his shoulder. At the time, everyone who was anyone was quick to dismiss the idea of surgical intervention ever being necessary. I was skeptical.
     
  • In late May of 2014, Profar re-injured the same muscle while on the rehab track. He was shut down for the season, to be re-evaluated at the end.
     
  • Profar was expected to take part in the Dominican Winter League, but began having even more issues with the shoulder in September of 2014. Doctors recommended at this time that he have surgery to fix the muscle tear. Profar (politely?) declined, opting instead to strengthen the shoulder and surrounding muscles.
     
  • Profar began a throwing program in January of 2015.
     
  • Today, it has been announced that, after all this time, surgery will indeed be necessary. No timetable for his return has yet been announced.

So, if you're following at home, that's almost a full calendar year in which surgical intervention should have been an option, but for some reason wasn't. Beyond that, once it became an option, the team just allowed Profar to say, "Thanks for the advice, doc, but no thanks."

Furthermore, it's all but certain that by the end of it, the once-top prospect in all of baseball will have missed two full seasons of play because of an arm injury that should have been taken care of long ago.

I'm a huge fan of the current front office regime that is in place, but this, my friends, is an organizational failure from the top to the bottom. This shouldn't still be an issue, but it is. Profar's shoulder should have been operated on nearly a year ago, but wasn't. Even being conservative, the surgery should have been done in September when doctors said it was the best option.

And now, we very well may never know what Jurickson Profar might have been. Perhaps he'll come back and not miss a beat. I'm not seeing it. Not every player has the type of prodigious talent that allowed Josh Hamilton to excel at hitting Major League pitching without seeing anything more than about 95 plate appearances at the Double-A level 5 years prior. We can see how that lack of plate discipline is hurting him now.

Instead, we're left wondering exactly what Jurickson Profar is. I hope we're not heading toward wondering what he could have been, but my heart tells me that's where we'll end up. It's just a damn shame that no one in the organization stepped up and properly took charge of the situation.