“Baseball is like a poker game. Nobody wants to quit when he's losing;
nobody wants you to quit when you're ahead.”
Addiction is one of those things in life that no one can fully understand. Some people experience it, others feel true empathy for those who are stuck deep in its grasp, and yet others have no time or patience to consider the addictions of others. Yet, in some manner, addiction affects every one of us throughout the course of our lives.
For an addict, everyday life comes with so many more challenges than most of us can even begin to imagine. Being a productive human, keeping steady employment, or even getting out of bed can rapidly become an impossible burden; physical pain and mental anguish combine to overpower even the smallest of tasks.
Addiction is the oddest of all faults in that it is not limited to any one specific thing. Everyone is susceptible to the disease which knows no limits, whether the constant lurking monster comes in the form of drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, adrenaline, or a myriad of other things, the weakness of the human life form can be tested by how one comes out on the other side of addiction.
Josh Hamilton’s addiction is one of the most publicized in the history of sports. Baseball fans know his story in depth, from his first time using after being injured as a prospect in the Tampa farm system, to his most recent relapse that led to his public shaming and release from the Angels franchise. We all know of his struggles. We all know that the addiction monster reared his ugly head on a number of occasions, and, unfortunately, we also fear that it may appear once again.
In the minds of those who have never personally experienced addiction, the solution just seems so simple; walk away. Be intentional, and just walk away.
Walk away from the temptation, walk away from the drugs and alcohol, walk away from those characters who provide the vice. Embrace the money, push out the addiction. Enjoy the blessed life of an athlete, avoid the life of a junkie. Surround yourself with family and loved ones, ignore those who present temptation.
If only it were that easy.
The odd thing about addicts is that the addiction never goes away. The war is never over, and while the battle may not even be daily, it is often still lurking somewhere in the depths. People can fight off these personal demons, function on a daily basis, present themselves in the workplace, as parents, as spouses, as all of the things that are expected of them, yet the struggle is never fully gone.
Addicts often find another vice to replace their addiction, opting for the lesser of two evils to help in their recovery process. Drug addicts reduce themselves to smokers, alcoholics require copious amounts of caffeine, gamblers find some form of competition. While so many people work to defeat their personal addiction, the addictive personality never changes.
This is something that happened directly in front of our eyes and we never stopped to realize it.
As Josh Hamilton worked so hard to defeat his years of drug abuse and his dependency on alcohol, his addictions changed, and his addictive personality became attached to a number of new vices.
As Josh no longer depended on cocaine, he became attached to the adrenaline rush provided by the roar of the crowd.
As Josh no longer actively sought after his next drink of alcohol, he thrived on the crack of the bat, the feeling of the cool grass under his cleats, and the next big moment that could lead to his next drink of celebration ginger ale.
As Josh no longer confided in dealers and tattoo artists, he leaned heavily on his teammates, coaches, and the advice of his then wife, Katie.
As this happened, we witnessed not the defeat of an addiction, but the evolution of one. In working diligently to move past a life of drugs and alcohol, Josh Hamilton found himself in the grips of an addiction to the baseball lifestyle. He thrived off of the crowd. He desired the love of fans more than anything else in the world. He saw his new found fame as his means of survival, and we all bought in, fueling his fire.
And it was a beautiful thing.
I have spent so much of my life on a baseball field. My spare time and hobbies rely on a baseball field. My career path has once again found me on a baseball field for countless hours every single week. Yet, when I look back at my fondest memories provided by this game, so many of them are directly related to the performances of Josh Hamilton. His four homer game in Baltimore, his performance in the home run derby, his constant flow of strange stories and heroic moments, his clutch moment in the World Series; all of which are impossible to remember without revisiting that euphoric feeling that only this game can provide.
We became just as much addicted to Josh Hamilton as he had ever been addicted to anything in his life.
And, doing the worst thing an addict can try to do, we ran into there severe complications of trying to give him up cold turkey. Like most addicts, we looked for anything other than ourselves to blame. We blamed the drug itself (Hamilton). We blamed our dealer (Wash). We blamed the cartel (Katie). We blamed the failed war on drugs (the MLB). We felt hurt and looked for excuses, without ever taking a moment to reflect on ourselves.
Now that we have had time to recover, it has become glaringly obvious that the actions that led to Hamilton departing Texas for an LAA uniform were exactly what all of us needed. As fans, we needed to come back to earth and be real, remembering that these players are human beings. As for Josh Hamilton, he needed to test himself as a human, and find out just how much he had truly grown.
In the end, we all ended up disappointing ourselves.
There is no rational way to hold a grudge against Josh Hamilton for leaving town. Were his press conference quotes a bit idiotic? Yes, without a doubt. However, no rational person can fault another human being for taking the security that $125 million will provide for themselves, their children, and for countless future generations. Likewise, no rational Rangers fan can say that they wish Texas had been on the hook for the contract that the Angels offered to Hamilton.
Yet, rational thought has been at a premium when discussing Josh and the emotions we have all felt since his departure.
We were all addicts.
When the club announced this offseason that Texas was inking Hamilton to a minor league deal in an attempt to convert him to a first baseman and give him another shot at writing the perfect ending to the greatest story of redemption, so many of us got that itch again. We wanted to feel that joy that only Joshua Holt Hamilton can provide on the field.
We wanted to hear that thunderous crack of the bat that only he could provide. We wanted to see that childish grin. We wanted to hear the score from “The Natural” playing as he loped around the bases, cherishing the clamor of the crowd on a hot Texas night while fireworks rained down behind him.
We had a relapse.
In reality, there is nothing that Josh Hamilton can offer a Major League team at this point. We all knew it. Deep down, Josh Hamilton knows it. His body has taken on too much mileage, taking beatings on and off of the baseball field. But we are addicts, and as is always the case, addicts do not think sensibly.
As it comes time for Josh Hamilton to officially step away from the game of baseball, we must all come clean of our addictions; Hamilton of playing the game at a high level, and us of Josh Hamilton.
This is when things get tricky.
Addicts often find another vice to replace their addiction.
Fortunately, for Rangers fans, that next addiction is readily available in the form of the sound a ball makes coming off of Joey Gallo’s bat, the intensity Rougned Odor puts into every play, and the sweet swing of Nomar Mazara. If you combine the best points of all three, we can find the parts that made Josh Hamilton.
For Hamilton, however, things may be more challenging.
Addiction never goes away.
As much as I wanted Josh to return to baseball, as much as I wanted to see him walk away on top of the game, as much as I hoped that his legacy would conclude with a World Series ring, none of those things amount to the sincere hope that he remains clean.
As Josh moves on with his life, as he functions in circles that are outside of a clubhouse or physical rehab facility, as he finds friends that are not teammates, as he continues the struggle that is being a divorced parent, I hope that life continues to lead him down a path of sobriety.
As fans, we owe him our support. For years, Josh Hamilton gave us everything he had. The reactions of so many Texas Rangers fans upon the announcement that Hamilton had been released from his minor league contract was beyond repulsive. So many people wished him ill, referred to his drug use, his divorce, and any other negative they could think of, as if Hamilton had hurt them personally. I simply cannot understand this. The man gave the Rangers the greatest moments in franchise history; relish in them.
I find it strangely relieving that Josh Hamilton’s career is coming to an end due to the failings of his body rather than a relapse.
Thank you for creating the greatest baseball moments I have ever experienced, Josh. Now stay clean and live that good life, find peace, stay sober, and discover a new addiction that only brings joy for the future.
Sometimes the greatest stories come when the happy ending is not the one we all expected.