October 2008 Susie Magill
Prior to the 1999 Major League Draft, Josh Hamilton was considered a prospect with all the tools. A 6’4” southpaw who could both stun hitters from the mound with his 96-mph fastball and shame pitchers from the plate with his bat speed of 110 mph, Hamilton had incalculable potential in the game. He held the world of baseball at his fingertips.
Recognizing the 18-year-old gold mine, the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected him as the No. 1-overall draft pick out of Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, N.C. When one reporter asked his thoughts on his gleaming baseball career, Hamilton replied, “I want to play for at least 20 years so that, when I retire, I won’t have to wait to be in the Hall of Fame; I will just be inducted.”
This season, as Hamilton’s name has made sports-page headlines on a regular basis, the public has learned that his ostentatious high school plans took a major detour. In fact, during the few years after he entered professional baseball, Hamilton, now 27, battled an intense drug addiction that led him to blow almost his entire $4 million signing bonus, get suspended from baseball and become estranged from his family.
While his original plans were ambitious, it might have been just as lofty for him to say, “I will just be happy being alive and playing ball.” Because it is only by the grace of God that he is still able to do both.
To fully understand Hamilton’s story of redemption, you have to start at the beginning.
Joshua Holt Hamilton grew up in Raleigh, N.C., and, like most families in the South, his attended church. But by the age of 12, his focus had shifted: more sports and less God. Being a successful AAU player, he spent weekends traveling to compete and only recalls a handful of times he darkened the door of a church as a teen.
On June 2, 1999 (his father’s birthday), he took a major step in his desired direction. He was selected by the Devil Rays as the first pick in the MLB Draft—a “dream come true” for the high school phenom, whose average had reached as high as .636. But according to the Devil Rays’ scout, it was Hamilton’s character that sealed the deal. “You read so many bad things about professional athletes these days,” he told the press, “but I don’t think you ever will about Josh.”
Despite his golden arm and prosperous future Hamilton still realized that something was missing, and a mid-game vision during his rookie season with the Princeton Devil Rays (W.Va.) caused him to evaluate his spiritual condition. No longer a pitcher, Hamilton was standing in the outfield one day and looked into the sky. He saw what appeared to be a demon’s face jumping out of the clouds. For him, it was a spiritual sign, and the experience moved him so much that he prayed to receive Christ after the season was over.
But like seeds sown in the absence of sunlight and water, Hamilton’s faith failed to thrive. “I didn’t realize how to go about growing in my spiritual life,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t know how to get into Bible studies or the Word or even how to pray.”
Hamilton’s lack of spiritual depth soon opened him up to spiritual attack.
During spring training in 2001, he was in Florida with the Devil Rays organization. After practice one February afternoon, Hamilton and his parents, who had moved to the St. Petersburg area from N.C. to chaperone their son, were driving home from the park when a dump truck ran a red light and t-boned the left side of their car.
The family survived the crash, but Hamilton’s parents were severely injured and had to return to N.C. for physical rehab. Hamilton’s own injuries forced him into the dugout for most of the season.
“The two things I knew in my life were my parents and baseball and they were both taken away at the same time,” Hamilton said. “I was left in Florida by myself, and that was the beginning of my downward spiral.”
His forced time away from the game left him with idle hands and money to burn. One day, out of sheer boredom, he found his way into a local tattoo parlor. He soon became a repeat customer.
“Before I took my first drink or drug, tattoos were my emotional outlet,” Hamilton said. “I would sit in a tattoo chair for eight to nine hours straight. Some days I would get three tattoos.”
Hamilton inked all 26 tattoos on his body before taking a single sip of alcohol. The body art he accumulated clearly reflected his spiritual battle. Some were of demons and devils, while others were the images of Christ and crosses.
Soon, out of one addiction, another was born.
One night, while hanging out with the tattoo-shop crowd, Hamilton took his first drink of alcohol, which was shortly followed by his first line of cocaine. It wasn’t long before drugs replaced baseball as his consuming desire. Hamilton was obsessed with one thing: lining up his next hit.
The next season, Hamilton returned to the field, but, for the first time in his life, baseball was a challenge. He had trouble connecting at the plate, and he was plagued with injuries. Over the course of his three minor-league seasons, he missed more than 230 games.
Frequent trips to the disabled list meant trouble for Hamilton, as his time was absorbed by parties and drugs. Eight times he went to drug rehab, and eight times he came back intending to stay clean. Not once was he successful.
In the summer of 2003, Hamilton returned to his team from a rehab assignment and planned a fresh start. But that very night, he was invited to hang out with a group of teammates, and, not wanting to be alone, Hamilton accepted. Before the night was over, he was using again, even though he knew he had a drug test scheduled for the next day.
"I remember taking off my uniform for what I thought might have been the very last time. Then I got in my car, after telling them what I had had done, and I drove home."
“I basically sabotaged myself,” he said. “I remember being at the field the next day and starting to cry because I knew what I had done. I looked at the pitcher and realized that it might be the last time I ever stepped foot on the field. I remember taking off my uniform for what I thought might have been the very last time. Then I got in my car after telling them what I had done and drove home.”
While Hamilton had only assumed his suspension when he left, he eventually received the official news. Several months after he returned home, he was sitting on his couch watching ESPN when he heard the report: “Josh Hamilton has been suspended for violation of Major League Baseball’s drug-abuse policy.”
Without his baseball dream to fight for, Hamilton fell deeper into his pursuit of drugs: “I pretty much went after it after that.”
While back home in North Carolina, Hamilton continued seeking help.
In the fall of 2003, after his official suspension, he paid a 2 a.m. visit to the house of Michael Dean Chadwick. He had attended high school with and dated Chadwick’s daughter, and he also knew that Chadwick was a recovered drug addict himself. He reasoned that someone who had been in his shoes could provide answers he hadn’t found in rehab.
“I remember Big Daddy just being awesome,” Hamilton said, referring to Chadwick by his better-known nickname. “I heard a little bit about his story and what he had been through, and they were the same things I had gone through. Looking back, I know God drew me to his house that night.”
Chadwick, a man with a strong faith in Christ who also currently serves as a local FCA board member, was the key Hamilton had been looking for. During the months that followed, Chadwick provided him the encouragement to start attending AA meetings and doing community service. He also gave Hamilton a steady job at his construction site.
Not long after, Hamilton ran into his former girlfriend (and current boss’ daughter), Katie. It had been more than a year since the two had dated, but the relationship soon rekindled. In November 2004, just four months later, they were married.
“It was that fast, but when you know, you know,” Katie said. “In three weeks I went from thinking I had no feelings for him to wanting to marry him.”
Hamilton was starting the new year of 2005 as a new man. He had been clean for more than six months, had found and married his bride, and the two were now expecting a child. Both he and Katie thought his life with drugs was over.
“I was very naive about drug addiction,” Katie said. “I thought it was more of a choice you could make. I didn’t know the ins and outs of it.”
She was soon brought to reality. Hamilton had a minor 24-hour relapse—a brief moment of weakness—but it was all it took to shatter their would-be fairytale, as it was soon followed by his return to alcohol four months later at a company party.
“That night didn’t turn out too well,” Hamilton said. “[I realize now that] anything that alters your mood is a drug, and I don’t do well with an altered mood.”
That night, after punching out the windshields in two cars, breaking a bat across his leg and standing in the middle of his yard yelling at his wife and her father, Hamilton was arrested and taken to jail.
"Anything that alters your mood is a drug, and I don’t do well with an altered mood.”
Instead of allowing the incident to be a wake-up call, Hamilton turned in the opposite direction and dove head-first back into his addiction.
He started back on cocaine and then moved to harder drugs. There were moments of sobriety, but they all were short-lived.
Hamilton cleaned up long enough to see the birth of his daughter, Sierra, in August 2005, but even that occasion led to a slip. On his way to get a prescription filled for Katie, he stopped in at a local bar, and, within hours, he was at it again.
“As an athlete, it is such a rush on the field making a good play, doing things that most people can’t,” Hamilton said. “It felt like the drugs did that for me when I didn’t have baseball. It made me get that rush and feel like I was on top of the world. But it always ended badly; it would always come down, and I would get depressed.”
This time, Katie was fed up.
“He wasn’t helping himself,” she said. “I didn’t see any change or effort.”
As a result, Katie kicked her husband out of the house—a move to which he responded by going on a four-day crack binge. No sleep, no food, just drugs.
Unable to return home, Hamilton turned to his grandmother. He showed up on her doorstep weighing only 180 pounds, a skeleton of the man he used to be.
“She had always told me I could come there for anything, anytime, for any reason,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t’ have anywhere else to go, so I stayed there that first week, and I used a couple of times there.”
Hamilton’s grandmother knew something was different and confronted her grandson.
“I had heard it so many times before,” he said. “People I loved had said they couldn’t take it anymore—they hated seeing me kill myself—but it had never sunk in. And then, for some reason, God opened my heart, and my grandmother told me all those things again. She cried, and for some reason, He allowed me to feel those feelings [that she was sharing with me].”
That night, Hamilton awakened to the monster he’d become and realized how far he had run from the God he had called upon early in his career. He was relieved to find that like the father of the prodigal son, God was pleased to welcome him back.
“I am so happy that God gives you more than one chance,” Hamilton said. “I tried to stop so many times. I went to rehabs and meetings. And, yes, all that stuff helps, but when I decided to surrender my life to Christ, that is when it changed. I was able to stop using. God’s mercy and grace is astonishing to me.”
That day, October 5, 2005, marked the beginning of a new life for Josh Hamilton—a life without drugs or alcohol; a life now focused on Christ and serving Him with all of his heart.
Hamilton wasn’t the only one in the family God had been dealing with through the experience. Katie had been fighting strong battles of her own.
“During Josh’s relapse, I spent so much time in prayer,” she said. “I felt God laying on my heart that Josh was going to get back into baseball, and that He was going to give him a platform to share his testimony and share what God had done in his life.”
This revelation came as a complete surprise to Katie. She still had never seen her husband play baseball at that point and thought his days on the field were done. When she felt the Spirit giving her the vision for Hamilton’s future, she questioned why He would reveal such information during the worst period of his addictions.
Josh and Katie Hamilton with daughters Julia and Sierra.
Not pictured: newborn Michaela
“I kept thinking, ‘You know, Lord, I must have been so wrong. Did I just imagine You told me that? Did I just dream it? Was it something that I wanted?’” she said. “The Lord always just told me to wait. Even when I wanted to quit praying for Josh, He would bring me back to Isaiah 40:31 (NKJV): ‘But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength...’”
While remaining faithful in prayer, Katie still battled bitterness and resentment toward her husband. Not wanting those emotions to take root, she sought help and advice from her pastor. To her surprise, he didn’t suggest a complex list of things for her to do. He gave her one simple task: forgive Josh wholeheartedly. Whether he accepted it or not couldn’t matter.
Katie took the advice. She called Hamilton at his grandmother’s house and spoke powerful words to her husband: “I forgive you.”
Not completely understanding the weight of her words, he responded with a halfhearted, “OK.”
“I wasn’t all there yet emotionally, just being a month sober,” Hamilton said. “I just listened.”
Still, Katie meant what she said, and, to this day, has never once brought up Hamilton’s past. Not the drugs or nights he went missing. There’s been no pointing of the finger or questioning “Why?”
Said a now-understanding Hamilton: “That is a good wife.”
Soon after the phone conversation, the two reconciled. Hamilton began seeking God, reading his Bible, praying and participating in a Bible study—all the things he had neglected in the years that had passed since he first acknowledged Christ.
Still under official suspension from Major League Baseball, Hamilton didn’t know how it would be possible for God to use him in baseball as Katie had predicted. Then, in January 2006, he received a call from Roy Silver, a former professional ballplayer who had read an article about the centerfielder’s desire to return to the sport. He invited Hamilton to his baseball academy, The Winning Inning, in Clearwater, Fla. But there was one condition: hard work and Scripture memorization would equal time hitting and throwing.
Josh Hamilton - #32
Life Verse: James 4:7 (NIV): “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
Born: May 21, 1981
Height/Weight: 6-4/235 lbs.
Favorite Pitch: “Anything across the plate.”
Best Thing About Baseball: “I love throwing players out. The ball goes up, you see the guy on third, you hear the crowd and your teammates yell, ‘Tagging!’ You catch the ball, throw it and watch the whole thing happen. Then the stands explode when you get him out. It’s just an awesome feeling.”
• Broke the All-Star Home Run Derby record with 28 home runs in a single round.
• Was batting over .300 and leading the Majors in RBIs into September 2008.
• Became the first player in a decade to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded.
Hamilton accepted and relocated. He threw himself into chores that ranged from cleaning bathrooms and vacuuming offices, to maintaining the field and trimming the trees. He also attended the Bible studies offered and got serious about studying the
“I was kind of like their experiment,” Hamilton said. “It humbled me back to the roots of how I grew up: Work first; then play. If I didn’t finish my work, I couldn’t play.”
After two months in Florida, Hamilton felt better than he had in years and wanted to try his hand at independent league baseball. Wanting to cover his bases, he first placed a call to MLB to make sure his time in an independent league wouldn’t hurt his future chances of playing in the Majors.
Their response was unexpected.
“They said if they were going to clear me to play independent league ball, then I should get cleared to play back with the Devil Rays organization,” he said. “God had His hand on some hearts right there.”
Typically, players need to be clean for a full year before being reinstated. But doctors informed the Devil Rays’ general manager that playing would actually help Hamilton’s recovery. In June 2006, only eight months after his last drug use, Hamilton was officially reinstated with “limited privileges” and was soon playing for the Class A Hudson Valley Renegades in the New York-Penn League.
Delighted to be back on the field, Hamilton saw it as a miracle in and of itself that he could still swing a bat. But there
was more to come.
The following December, MLB held its Rule 5 draft, in which any player not listed on a team’s Major League 40-man roster could be picked up by another team for $50,000. The catch being that the selected player must stay on the new team’s big league 25-man roster for the entire season.
To that point, there had been no indication that any other team was interested in Hamilton. So, it came as a surprise to everyone when he was the third player chosen. He was picked up by the Chicago Cubs who immediately sold him to the Cincinnati Reds, which locked him into Cincinnati’s active roster for the season.
In only a year and a half, Hamilton had gone from a no-name drug addict to a promising ballplayer making his Major League debut.
As Hamilton made his way to the plate in Cincinnati on Opening Day 2007, he received a standing ovation. And that same adoration and support has followed him to his new home in Texas with the Rangers.
He has now surpassed every expectation, not only by staying clean, but by producing on the field. Hamilton’s name has become associated with RBIs and home runs, so much so that in mid-August, his former team, the Tampa Bay Rays, intentionally walked him with the bases loaded to avoid a possible game-winning hit. It was an act not seen in more than a decade.
For Hamilton, however, the main highlight of this past year isn’t punishing the ball from the plate. It isn’t even slugging the record-breaking 28 homers the first round of the 2008 MLB All-Star Home Run Derby. No sports achievement can compare to what he enjoys most: the opportunity to share his story and to point to the One who is responsible for his rise out of the shadows. And just as Katie foresaw four years ago, Hamilton now gets that chance after every game.
Every time he is asked that one defining question—“How do you explain your turnaround?”—Hamilton smiles. He knows the answer to this one: “It’s a God thing.”
If you had told me that the shaky figure I was staring down on my front steps was my future son-in-law, I would have called you crazy.
A Father’s Love
By Michael Dean Chadwick,
as told to Susie Magill
It was 2 a.m. when Josh Hamilton rang our doorbell in September 2003. I had no earthly clue who he was, but I sure knew what he was. As a recovered drug addict myself, I could recognize all the signs.
I had never previously met the kid, and I knew nothing of his professional baseball career or the success he’d had down the street at Raleigh’s Athens Drive High School. All I knew was that he was in trouble and needed help.
I figured he’d probably heard the testimony I’d shared throughout the area regarding my own drug problem and thought he’d give me a shot. But I also knew that God had sent him to me. I was supposed to do something. And my philosophy is that until you know what that something is, you can always be available.
I welcomed him in, and we sat on the back porch until daybreak just talking, trying to figure out where he was in life and how to get out. I knew there was only one way to get Josh back, and that was to love him back. Eight rehabs pretty much told me that rehab wasn’t going to kick it. Josh needed more.
I began to share my own life story about growing up on the streets, losing my dad at age 12, getting into drugs, and then finding freedom through Jesus. I told him we had to take it one step at a time. He had to make it through the morning, and then we would focus on the afternoon.
Hamilton and Chadwick
After our initial meeting, we maintained our friendship. While he battled his addiction, he continued to seek me out and even attended speaking engagements with me as he searched for the same freedom I had found.
He began sobering up and going to AA meetings. I gave him a job in my construction business and, soon after, he and my daughter, Katie, started dating. Four months later, in what seemed like a blur, they were married.
Then that demon reared his ugly head once again, and it was bigger than Josh could handle. He had no idea how to fight it; he didn’t have the right equipment. It was still Josh trying to conquer it through Josh’s strength. His stints of sobriety were short-lived because he wasn’t seeking real help—help from the only One who could fully deliver him.
You see, prior to his drug addiction, Josh had never really experienced failure. This was a kid who hit over .500 in high school. Baseball was what he knew, and he was good at it. But after his car accident, he felt lost and alone. So, he found something new to be good at. Unfortunately, it was getting drunk and high.
There were times he and Katie would have explosive arguments, and he would leave for several days. Then he would show back up at our house in the early morning totally clean, asking my wife to fix him some eggs as if nothing had happened.
There were two Joshes: one during his straight periods and another when he was trashed out of his mind. But we chose to love them both. And that is the advice I gave to Katie: that if she didn’t love him back, she wasn’t going to get him back. That didn’t mean she didn’t set parameters to protect herself and the girls, but, if her love was tough enough, it would survive this storm.
“There were two Joshes: one during his straight periods and another when he was trashed out of his mind. But we chose to love them both.”
The ironic thing was that seeing Josh’s struggle was like me holding up a mirror to myself 20 years prior. I knew that if God could deliver me, He could deliver Josh. I always believed that with all my heart. Even when times were tough and we wondered if Josh was going to self-destruct, I never really doubted that God was going to turn him around.
When he finally hit rock bottom, it was the best place for him. He was broke, didn’t have a place to live and on the verge of losing his family. He finally realized that the price he was paying for doing drugs was costing him more than he wanted to give up. It was going to cost him his wife, his girls, his baseball career and possibly his life. And just like the story of the prodigal son, God was right there waiting for Josh with arms outstretched, welcoming him home. Josh didn’t have to chase Him or even wonder where He was; He hadn’t moved an inch.
Today’s success hasn’t come overnight for Josh. He has had to work to surrender his addiction to Christ every day. It is a continuous fight, but, by using the right spiritual weapons, Josh has been victorious. What the devil meant for bad, God turned into His good and glory.
The story of Josh Hamilton is a miraculous one. It has provided so much hope for so many people. I see it everywhere I go, from the fan mail to the phone calls. This guy has given many people a new lease on life and has restored their faith that God can heal their family just as He healed ours.
Even with the distractions Josh faces in Major League Baseball, his faith has not faded once. He is the kind of guy who is all-or- nothing, and he is all-in with his relationship with Christ. He is staying focused with his faith and his family and remaining humble throughout his success on the field. Even after all the attention he received following the 2008 All-Star Game’s Home Run Derby, he is still both humbled and thrilled to be used by God.
There just isn’t a lot of pretension when it comes to Josh. It’s pretty simple: He’s just a kid out there, playing for his Father. And when Josh says, “It’s a God thing,” you’d better believe it. That’s not a sound bite he feeds to the media; it’s words flowing directly from the lips of his heart.
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy Brad Newton/Texas Rangers Baseball Club and Rick Crank.