Back To The Game

Writing about painful things is never fun.

It can be useful catharsis, of course; but the last couple of years for the Texas Rangers didn’t feel like necessary dues-paying or “part of the process”…my impression was that the Rangers zigged when they should have zagged. They took the wrong turn at Albuquerque. They missed the last plane to Lisbon. And so on. That is to say, I felt they wound up where they were by making some bad choices, not necessarily as the part of the normal decline of a good team.

And so, everything I tried to write was negative. I couldn’t focus on the positive, because I felt that half the problems were self-inflicted wounds. Covering things from that point of view just ends up starting fights; fights I really wasn’t interested in. And then going into this season, as I saw the Rangers revamp their pitching program from the ground up, and saw real results from changing batting coaches and instruction, and saw Texas finally embrace technology and advanced analysis, I saw real reason for hope.

Ironically, this time a large percentage of the fanbase wasn’t engaged in optimism. A lot of people still think that the Rangers will never win again without a Front Office tear-down. Or specifically, without a Jon Daniels tear-down, as the entire rest of the Front Office is new at this point.

But I’M optimistic, dammit, and I’m writing this, and what we need now is a sign from the baseball gods that everything is gonna be alright.

Yesterday, Josh Hamilton suddenly showed up in Central Texas. Sober, clean, melancholic? Yes. And being a father to his softball playing girls.

He’s back because it’s time…or rather enough time has passed.

His knees feel fine, but he wants to be with his girls.

He could still DH. Dear Lord, we all KNOW he could still DH. And he knows it. But he wants to be with his girls.

He misses playing baseball. He never watched it much, but finds himself watching games sometimes. While he’s taking care of his girls.

He misses being that Josh Hamilton, and he knows that WE miss him being that Josh Hamilton.

But he wants to take care of his girls.

Stay clean. Stay sober. Take care of his girls. Take care of himself. Be a contributing member of the community. That’s his mantra.

On August 17th, he’ll be back at Globe Life Park/The Ballpark in Arlington, a place he helped make important every bit as much as Nolan Ryan, Rafael Palmeiro, and Adrian Beltre. And Yu Darvish, Elvis Andrus, Joey Gallo, and all your favorite Rangers. Josh Hamilton will become a member of the Rangers Hall of Fame, an award he surely deserves…one of the greatest Rangers to ever play the game.

He's back now because maybe it’s just time. Time to be a part of the game again? I guess we’ll see. Time to be honored by his peers, certainly. Time to be loved by his fans again; pretty sure that’s gonna happen. Time because the Rangers, for the first time since Hamilton left after the 2012 season, have another Josh Hamilton in Center Field.

Time because the Rangers are alright, now. And Josh is alright, now.

May the baseball gods smile on both.

Welcome back.

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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. 

Josh Hamilton: A Cautionary Tale

He's got five fingers, and they're all pointed at everyone else.I wouldn't be worried about free agency [because] I'm going to concentrate on the Rangers and play baseball for this year and that's what I'm doing. I'm praying a lot about it; God will show up whether I'll be here or somewhere else. It's not about where I want to be – it's where he wants me to be.

For comments made less than a year ago, that time seems to have long since passed. Despite everything that has happened before and since, Josh Hamilton still doesn’t get it, and is once again proving that it’s all about him. No, not Him, the God Hamilton professes his faith for. It’s all about Josh Hamilton, the former Texas Rangers slugger that would have the rest of the baseball world feel sorry for the way he was treated by fans as his time in Arlington came to an unceremonious close.

You see, for all the talk about focusing on the season, keeping the business side of baseball from clouding his emotions, Hamilton is the one bringing emotion back into the picture. When he signed with the Angels in December, he likened the Rangers not going all-out for him to the Rangers not “putting a ring on it”, implying that his hurt feelings indeed played a part in his departure from Texas.  In an interview with CBS 11’2 Gina Miller on Sunday, Hamilton had some very pointed comments directed straight at the very fans that helped propel Hamilton into prominence after a well-publicized and constant battle with addiction once threatened to take him out of the game forever:

There are true baseball fans in Texas, but it’s not a true baseball town. They’re supportive, but they also got a little spoiled at the same time pretty quickly. You think about three to four years ago. It’s like, come on man, are you happier there again?

What Hamilton fails to realize is this: most people have a hard time feeling very sorry for a millionaire athlete. While once relishing the very same fans that supported him through several very public relapses, injuries, and even an accidental death at the ballpark, Hamilton is now pointing fingers at them, claiming they are spoiled. That includes me, and quite frankly, I don’t appreciate the way Hamilton is failing to own up to the fact that he got booed at the end, and only at the end, when his effort didn’t match the magnitude of the moment. Instead, he turns around and points fingers, blames everyone else, and uses God’s will as a crutch as if it somehow absolves him of accepting any sort of responsibility for his own failure to do the most basic thing an athlete is called to do: to try.

Prior to his late-season collapse in 2012, Hamilton had been mostly known as a player that gave an all-out effort, sometimes injuring himself in the process. Yet even in those times, he looked for someone to blame. In 2011, when a headfirst slide into home plate left him with a broken bone in his arm, he pointed his finger directly at third-base coach Dave Anderson, who sent Hamilton sprinting toward home plate in a game against the Detroit Tigers:

I listened to my third-base coach. That's a little too aggressive. The whole time I was watching the play I was listening. [He said], 'Nobody's at home, nobody's at home.' I was like, 'Dude, I don't want to do this. Something's going to happen.' But I listened to my coach. And how to you avoid a tag the best, by going in headfirst and get out of the way and get in there. That's what I did.

When asked again the next day how he felt about Anderson’s decision to send him home:

Dumb. People are going to blame who they want to blame. I threw him under the bus by telling the truth about what happened.

Yeah, since creating animosity with your coaches is always the best idea. Time after time, Hamilton, who had been told his entire life how talented he was, refused to listen to any kind of coaching, refused to change his plate approach, and at times, refused to even so much as take a pitch outside of the strike zone. His worst offense, however, came when he completely disappeared during the most crucial stretch of the season. Later citing too much caffeine, Hamilton sat out an important stretch of games with what he said was a vision issue. Upon his return, he had what many would consider an effort issue.

On the final day of the regular season, Hamilton dropped what is normally a routine fly ball, seemingly lacking any effort or hustle. In the AL wild-card game, Hamilton was 0-for-4, only taking 8 pitches to amass all 4 outs during the game. To even the most untrained eye, it seemed as if Hamilton was letting his emotions get the best of him, and he looked intent to just swing, get the day over with, and go home. Now, fortunately for Rangers fans, Hamilton can call California home.

Hamilton may not realize it yet, but it won't take several years of mounting frustration for him to go from fan-favorite to being booed. All he needs to do is ask Albert Pujols. Pujols went from being the game's most celebrated hitter to an afterthought in 2012. The first time Hamilton starts hacking at every pitch, throw a coach under the bus, or shows a lack of effort, he won't only be hearing it from his new manager, Mike Scioscia. He'll hear it even more from the fans. As bad as Hamilton may truly believe he was treated in Texas, he's about to find out just how good he really had it. It isn't called Texas hospitality for no reason. Until then, the idea of sitting in complete silence at every Hamilton at-bat in Arlington was brought up to me, and I couldn't think of a better way to handle the situation. After all, Hamilton has made it abundantly clear he has no love left for the fans that helped build him up to what he is now, and what better way to return the favor than by getting into his head with complete and utter silence?

There was a time when I believed one of baseball's most talented players would be a Ranger for the rest of his career. His own finger-pointing and lack of effort led to his departure. In the end, all the talent in the world won't take away from the fact that he just can't get over himself. Los Angeles, he's your problem now. Just don't say we didn't warn you when the home runs stop and Josh Hamilton blames everyone but himself.