The date was June 7, 2004. On that date, I had already graduated high school over a week earlier at Central High School in San Angelo, Texas. However, in San Diego, California, Matt Bush still found himself in a classroom as classes, unlike in most parts of Texas, ran well into the month of June.
"Watch, check out the Internet, I'm about to be the first overall draft pick," Bush told an English teacher. While the Padres were thought to actually have more interest in Stephen Drew and Jered Weaver, both players were Scott Boras clients, and would therefore demand higher signing bonuses. Bush was a shortstop, and it didn't hurt that he was a local kid. So, as things went, Bush ended up being the pick by the Padres at number one overall. Other notable players taken after Bush: Justin Verlander (No. 2 overall), Dustin Pedroia (No. 56 overall), Ian Desmond (No. 84 overall), and Ben Zobrist (No. 184 overall).
At that point, Matt Bush received his first dose of celebrity privilege.
Less than two weeks later, Matt Bush began what became the first in a string of off-field incidents that would end up derailing his career. Bush attempted to gain entrance to a nightclub near the Padres Spring Training compound in Peoria, Arizona. When he was denied entrance, he decided to jump the railing and ended up fighting with a bouncer.
The charges that resulted from the altercation resulted in Bush paying a $1000 fine and unsupervised probation.
In 2008, another bar fight ensued.
In the middle of all of this, Matt Bush struggled with his baseball career. He put up a .569 OPS at the plate between 2004 and 2007, at which point he began dabbling a bit in pitching.
In February of 2009, Bush assaulted boys lacrosse players at Granite Hills High in El Cajon, California. According to a witness at the scene, Bush was drunk, picked up one freshman player and threw him, hit another, shouted some obscenities, and then left in his Mercedes, hitting a curb in the process. On February 5, 2009, the Padres designated Bush for assignment. On February 10, 2009, Bush was traded to the Blue Jays.
Only weeks into his tenure with the Blue Jays, Matt Bush was unable to avoid the party scene. At a party on March 30, he ended up throwing a baseball at a woman's head while accusing her of drawing markings on his face at the party. In addition, Bush banged on her car window, and her statements indicated that he had been intoxicated at the time. The Blue Jays released him the next day.
In June of 2009, Bush had another alcohol-related incident in which he backed into a parked car and proceeded to resist arrest. Matt Bush was out of baseball for the entirety of the 2009 season.
On January 28, 2010, Bush signed a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays converted him to pitching. By the end of the 2011 season, he had pitched well enough to earn a late-season promotion to Triple-A Durham, although he never ended up making an appearance with them. He was slated to begin the 2012 season there, but as it turned out, one final drunken incident was in the cards.
On March 22, 2012, Bush asked teammate Brandon Guyer if he could borrow his vehicle. Guyer not realizing that Bush didn't possess a license, obliged. Per a Gabe Kapler piece that was published in May of 2014:
On his way to the mall to visit a Verizon store, Bush stopped at a gas station to get a beer.
"I planned to have one beer," he said. "But when I get there, I see that they don't sell liquor at the gas station. They had Four Lokos, a really big, strong, alcoholic energy drink. So, OK, I can just have one of these. That will be sufficient. So being in the car … you know … I'd hurry up and get rid of the evidence. Drink the beer, throw it away and move on."
Bush's destination was 45 minutes away. Already buzzed, he stopped again, and again, and again for drinks.
"I realized that I had almost no idea where I was, you know?" he recalls.
Soon, Bush received a sign -- one that many of us would take as a reminder that it was time to pull over and sober up. He smacked a pole with the side of Guyer's car.
"So the right side of Brandon's car is dented in really bad. And man, I felt so awful that I had to bring him back his brand new truck (in this condition). I was really, really scared to bring him back his car that way."
Bush kept going. He stopped at a strip club on his way back to the house to drink more. His brush with exotic dancers came and went, and he was off on the road again. The point of no return followed.
"I was speeding, passing cars, driving recklessly, and then I remember hitting the bike Mr. Tufano was driving. I can remember slightly nudging his back tire, which caused his bike to go out of control and I remember seeing him fly off the bike and I believe the bike shot under the car," Bush said. "It didn't seem real. But it was, and I realized that at that point, my life was over. You're done, you're over with."
He took off in the truck, fleeing the scene of the crime, leaving behind the man he nearly killed after he ran over his head. Panicking, Bush was too drunk to find his way home. Thankfully, flashing blue and red lights ended the possibility of any further collateral damage.
Matthew Brian Bush ended up being sentenced to 51 months in prison. He was just released from Hamilton Correctional Institute on October 30, 2015. On December 18, 2015, the Texas Rangers signed him to a minor league contract, complete with a no-tolerance policy and strict rules set in place for him to follow.
For starters, Bush isn't allowed to drive or consume alcohol. His father will travel with and stay with him wherever he ends up being assigned, which at this point looks like it will be Double-A Frisco.
Today, Bush will get an opportunity to pitch in an "A" game for the first time in Spring Training. Although he won't have an opportunity to make the Major League team right now, Jon Daniels has indicated that as a reward for doing all that's been asked of him to this point, the Rangers wanted to get him in a game.
As it turns out, the Rangers have a bit of experience when it comes to helping recovering addicts. Minor league coach Roy Silver was one of the coaches that helped Josh Hamilton with his recovery, and he's also known Matt Bush since he was but a young prospect.
Say what you want about the current state of Hamilton's career, but that arrangement actually worked out pretty well for Texas, what with an AL MVP award to his credit, two World Series appearances, and a Game 6 home run that very well should have made him immortal in Texas.
So if the Rangers are willing to take the chance, then count me in. Although I've never dealt with addiction, I've had friends who have. It's very real, and it's very powerful. It destroys lives; not only those suffering from the addiction, but to those around them, to innocent bystanders, and everyone in between.
And while it may not be "popular" to openly root for a man with an alcohol problem, that's exactly what I'm doing. Because believing in redemption in all of us, no matter our flaws, is a character trait I value very highly.
It just so happens that Matt Bush can still throw a baseball very well. It's easy for the average person to sit back and claim that a man that has screwed up so badly shouldn't have the chance to play a sport for a living once again. And if that's your opinion, that's fine.
I just happen to be of the opinion that redemption comes in all shapes and sizes. And if Matt Bush is good enough to pitch in some capacity for the Texas Rangers going forward, on their conditions and following their guidelines, I'm cool with it. Supporting his baseball career and his recovery from alcoholism aren't synonymous with supporting the mistakes he's made. Life simply isn't that black-and-white.
At the end of the day, this whole thing is all about a man who served his time trying to get some semblance of a life back on track. Today, he'll get his first opportunity to showcase the what talent he still has, and I applaud his efforts.
And if at some point this season, Matthew Brian Bush ends up pitching an inning for the Texas Rangers, that's just a bonus.
Follow Brandon Land on Twitter at @one_strike_away