Crearea primei pagini a News & Observer in aceasta dimineata este un articol despre Hamilton care a crescut in zona Raleigh. Era o veste pentru mine ca Iosua (ceea ce il numeste acum socrul sau) ar putea arunca un fastabll de 99 MPH in liceu. Pe articolul de Tim Stevens:
Hamilton cauta intoarcerea la baseball: „Josh Hamilton, primul jucator luat in proiectul de baseball din Major League 1999, recunoaste ca a fost dependent de alcool si cocaina. Dar spune ca s-a inscris la un program de recuperare, a fost sobru si fara droguri. timp de aproape sase luni si spera sa i se permita sa revina la baseball la jumatatea sezonului „.
Acum 23 de ani, Hamilton, un absolvent al liceului Athens Drive de la Raleigh, a fost inscris pe lista din Tampa Bay Devil Rays in aceasta primavara, dar intra in al doilea sau sezon complet de suspendare din baseball-ul profesional pentru consumul de droguri. Nu a jucat intr-un joc din iulie 2002.
„A fost greu”, a spus Hamilton saptamana trecuta intr-un interviu la noua sa casa din Fuquay-Varina.
„As putea face mereu lucruri cand am incercat. Mi-a luat ceva timp sa invat ca nu ma descurc singura. Nu as fi recunoscut asta acum un an.”
Toamna trecuta, Hamilton i-a scris lui Bud Selig, comisarul echipei Major Baseball si cel cu puterea de a ridica suspendarea, explicandu-i situatia, cerandu-i iertare si spunandu-i comisarului ca vrea sa se intoarca. Raspunsul lui Selig din 29 noiembrie l-a laudat pe Hamilton pentru ca a ajuns sa-si asculte dependenta, l-a incurajat sa continue lupta si a spus ca, de asemenea, spera ca Hamilton va reveni intr-o zi la baseball.
Pedeapsa lui Hamilton este cea mai severa pe care sportul a aplicat-o pana acum pentru consumul de droguri. Dar ramane plin de speranta si saptamana trecuta a primit un apel de la Chuck LaMar, directorul general al Diavolului Rays. „A fost prima data cand am auzit de la management de ceva vreme”, a spus el.
Organizatia Devil Rays nu a raspuns la cererile de comentarii; dar Vince Naimoli, managerul partenerului general al Diavolului Rays, a declarat recent la Times din St. Petersburg (Fla.
), „Am incrucisat degetele. Situatia lui de familie a ajutat cu adevarat”.
In fiecare dimineata, cand Hamilton se trezeste si se jura sa ramana sobru inca o zi, el spune ca primele sale ganduri sunt ale lui Katie, sotia lui de cinci luni si a copilului pe care il asteapta in august; a Iuliei, fiica sa vitrega de 3 ani; si altii, inclusiv socrul sau, Michael Dean Chadwick, si pastorul sau, Jimmy Carroll, care il sustin.
Hamilton se afla acum intr-un program in 12 pasi, participa zilnic la sedinte de sustinere si il insoteste pe socrul sau, care lucreaza cu tineri cu probleme si dependenti prin ministerele Mike Chadwick, la angajamente vorbitoare. Hamilton este activ si in biserica pe care o incepe Carroll.
„Cand esti dependent, nu-ti pasa de tine, de familia ta sau de nimeni altcineva”, a spus Hamilton. „Tot ce va preocupa este urmatoarea.
Pe cont propriu
Cand Hamilton a semnat cu Devil Rays in 1999 pentru un bonus de 3,6 milioane USD, potentialul sau parea nelimitat.
Mingea lui rapida a fost cronometrata la 99 km / h, la egalitate cu cele mai dificile aruncatoare de lance din ligi majore. Insa oficialii Diavolului Rays au crezut ca poate fi si mai bun ca un outfielder, pentru ca, de asemenea, a fost un lovitor puternic si consecvent, un campion puternic si un alergator rapid.
Hamilton isi depaseste problemele pana in primavara anului 2001. Se astepta sa faca o lovitura la realizarea echipei de liga majora a razelor dupa doar cativa ani in ligile minore.
Apoi, camionul in care calarea impreuna cu mama si tatal sau a fost lovit de un camion basculant care a aprins o lumina rosie in Bradenton, Fla.
Mama lui a trebuit sa fie taiata de la epave si a fost internata in spital. Spatele lui Hamilton era ranit.
Parintii sai, care fusesera alaturi de el la fiecare pas din calatoria sa de baseball, au decis sa se intoarca in Carolina de Nord in timp ce fiul lor se recupera.
Pentru prima data in viata sa, Hamilton a luat decizii de unul singur; si pentru prima data, baseball-ul nu a umplut fiecare moment de trezire.
Intr-o zi s-a aventurat intr-un magazin de tatuaje Bradenton si a primit primul dintre cele 26 de tatuaje ale sale.
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„Oamenii erau prietenosi si acceptanti”, a spus el. „A fost un loc bun pentru a fi”. Cunoscatorii sai la magazin l-au invitat la o petrecere; iar acolo, a spus el, dupa ce a baut bere pentru prima data, a folosit cocaina pentru prima data.
„Vorbesti despre un tip care nu a gustat niciodata alcool sau nu a consumat vreun medicament la varsta de 20 de ani”, a spus Hamilton.
Ulterior, a spus el, consumul ulterior de cocaina a venit dupa ce a baut.
– As avea cinci sau sase bauturi pentru a lua marginea si mi-ar putea amortiza aceasta mica parte din creierul meu chiar aici, spuse el aratand pe frunte. „Aceasta este partea care imi spune sa nu consum droguri”.
La doua saptamani dupa acea petrecere plina de evenimente, Devil Rays l-a trimis pe Hamilton la un psiholog sportiv pentru a discuta despre cum se confrunta mental cu ranile la spate. Hamilton a mentionat intamplator ca experimenta cu alcool si droguri.
Douazeci si patru de ore mai tarziu, era in Rancho Mirage, California, inscris intr-un program de reabilitare de 30 de zile la Clinica Betty Ford. A plecat dupa opt zile impotriva sfaturilor personalului.
„Am tot spus ca nu sunt dependent”, a spus el. „Am experimentat mai putin de doua saptamani”.
Anul urmator, dupa ce a jucat jumatate de sezon cu filiala Devil Rays Class A din Bakersfield, California, s-a ranit la umar si s-a intors la Raleigh. A suferit o interventie chirurgicala pe umar si o problema minora la genunchi. Inca o data a avut timp pe mainile sale.
O bautura ocazionala cu vechii amici de baseball a escaladat. Curand a cautat cocaina.
In primavara anului 2003, Hamilton s-a raportat la tabara de antrenament cu Diavolii Rai si a fost repartizat la echipa lor de clasa AA din Orlando.
„Cand m-am intors in acel mediu, m-a lovit pentru prima data cat de mare era problema mea”, a spus el.
Sportul de baseball, caruia i se dedicase inca de la varsta de 3 ani, l-a rasplatit cu un contract lucrativ de liga majora, dar cariera sa a fost de neclintit.
„Aruncam ce lucrasem toata viata”, a spus el, „dar nu m-am putut abtine.”
El a decis sa-si ia concediul personal care a durat tot timpul sezonului, in timp ce a incercat sa rezolve problemele sale.
O vizita ciudata
At 11:30 one night in September 2003, he found himself knocking on the door of Michael Dean Chadwick’s home in Cary. „To this day, I don’t know why,” Hamilton said.
He had dated Katie Chadwick a few times when both were seniors at Athens Drive High School and knew her father. Michael Chadwick, who had already gone to bed, came to the door to greet a young man nearing the end of his rope. „I was messed up,” Hamilton said.
The two sat on the deck and talked much of the night.
Chadwick, a nationally known speaker who has fought his own addictions, was willing to help. But he said he needed to know one thing from Hamilton: „Did he want me to hold the umbrella for him for a little while, or did he want to change the climate he was living in? I’ll hold the umbrella for a little while, but I’m not going to be somebody’s permanent umbrella holder.”
A year passed before Hamilton became sober.
„It is a process,” Chadwick said. „He didn’t get in the ditch in a day, and he couldn’t crawl out of it all at once, either. „
After again failing drug tests in February 2004, Hamilton was suspended from baseball for 30 days and went to a rehabilitation clinic in Minnesota. There he learned – by reading a newspaper, he said – that on March 19 he had been suspended for the entire 2004 season.
In August, when he failed to appear for another drug test, his suspension was extended for the 2005 season.
„I had been in the [rehab] programs, but I never followed up,” he said. „I knew what to do but didn’t do it.”
When Hamilton began his recent recovery program, Chadwick said, he was told there was a 90 percent chance his son-in-law wouldn’t make it. Six weeks later, he was told that Hamilton’s chances had risen to 50-50.
„Today,” Chadwick said, „they say there is a very, very, very good chance that Joshua will make it.”
New faith, new hope
Hamilton, who says he has been alcohol- and drug-free since Sept. 21, is preparing for that possibility. He hits in a batting cage every day and recently has worked out with the N.C. State team – the program he signed with during his senior year in high school but turned down to accept a professional baseball contract.
He is thinking about what he would need to do to deal with the strong temptations he would face should he return to professional baseball and be on the road without his family.
„There are 12-step programs all over the country,” he said. „And there are great people involved who would come and pick me up and hold me accountable. The first thing I’ll do when I get back to baseball is find where there are meetings in every city where I play.”
Regardless of baseball’s decision, he said, he has a new peace in his life, because of spiritual growth.
He carries a blue laminated card in his wallet labeled „Footprints.” It tells a story: Sometimes, when God seems to have forsaken you, he is really carrying you through hard times. Hamilton said it is the story of his life. He wears a new gold chain carrying a locket that is a small book with the Ten Commandments.
Last week, at a meeting of his church, something happened that affected him profoundly. „At the end of the service, I closed my eyes, and all I could see was Jesus with his arms outstretched,” Hamilton said. „I cried like a baby, but it brought such a relief in my life. I have a peace I can’t explain.”
He said he wrestles every day with not drinking. As a precaution he recently began taking Antabuse, a medicine that reacts to alcohol with stomach-wrenching suddenness.
„I drive past a country store and think one beer wouldn’t hurt,” he said. „I know that it could cost me everything – my home, my family, my happiness – but my body is saying one won’t hurt. The Antabuse is just one more thing to help me.”
A gift of belonging
Hamilton says his greatest motivation is family and believes that when Katie Chadwick came back into his life, it was a gift. She fell in love with the young man her father calls „Joshua,” not the guy on the baseball cards.
„She has never seen me play a single baseball game,” he said.
„When Katie and I started dating, she had no idea that I still had money or that I might be allowed back into baseball. She has stayed by me through some bad times.”
Because of the way his original contract was structured, Hamilton is financially secure. Part of the money he received was controlled by his parents.
„That has caused some hard feelings in the family at times,” he said, „but it is a good thing the contract was drawn that way.”
His stepdaughter will turn 4 on March 14. „I just look at her and realize all the people that are supporting me and counting on me,” he said. „She is unbelievable.”
Hamilton often accompanies his father-in-law when he speaks to teams, church or youth groups.
„When he goes and speaks to a youth group or a group of men, all those people not only become his supporters, but Joshua is accountable to them,” Chadwick said. „They are pulling for him, and they are counting on him.
„The final story of Joshua Hamilton has not been written. It is going to be a glorious story that will help millions of people.”