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Josh Hamilton is not your garden variety baseball player.
The Texas Rangers center fielder is at the top of his class - he is an animal at the plate and he redefines the word clutch.
I will remember the 2011 World Series for David Freese's extra innings heroics in game six, but what also sticks out in my mind is the two run jack that Hamilton answered with after the Cardinals tied the game. If the Rangers had held onto that lead, a movie would have made about Hamilton. And a statue probably would have been built.
But something else separates Hamilton from the rest of his peers - something deeply engrained in his genetic make-up. Something that will forever shape the way people remember him for better or for worse.
Josh Hamilton is an alcoholic.
When a celebrity struggles with addiction, their travails find their way into the nation's microscope, and Hamilton's drug problem has taken center stage over the last few years. He was suspended early in his career for violating Major League Baseball's substance abuse policy and after accruing a period of time sober, he decided to speak publicly about his recovery. This was a poor decision on Hamilton's part. Any slip would now be considered a story, and Hamilton has had a few slips.
2010 marked a major turnaround. With some solid sobriety under his belt, Hamilton shined on the diamond. He was the centerpiece of a dangerous offense that made it all the way to the World Series, and in 2011 the Rangers continued to build on their success.
On July 8th 2011 however, fate turned for the slugger. Hamilton tried to throw a foul ball to a fan in the left field bleachers. When Shannon Stone, a 39 year old fire fighter, leaned over the railing to catch the ball for his 6 year old son, he accidentally slipped over the guard rail and fell to his death.
Baseball player or not, alcoholic or not, a tragedy like this would weigh heavy on any man's heart. You can't begin to imagine the way he felt - and probably the way he still feels.
Fast forward to today, and we have the breaking news of Josh Hamilton's most recent relapse. Hamilton was seen at a bar in the Texas area having three or four drinks a few nights ago. After word of this spread he came clean with his teammates and coaches. Now he has to face up to major national scrutiny. Hamilton may face another league suspension. He will have to find a way to rebuild yet again, not only on the baseball field and with his fans, but also in the hearts and minds of his loved ones.
But what the average sports fan doesn't realize is that he must also start back from square one with his sobriety. This is a massive undertaking - one marred with shame, self searching and fear.
So perhaps I should amend the way I started this piece. Josh Hamilton may be more than just your garden variety baseball player, but when it comes down to it, he IS just your garden variety alcoholic. He's just like the other millions of alcoholics that are all around you on a daily basis - the ones that you don't even notice are there. The only difference is that while their mistakes slide under the radar, his every decision faces heavy scrutiny. The average alcoholic doesn't have to worry about ESPN running the story of their relapse at the top of the hour on SportsCenter. Relapse is usually dealt with in the privacy of friends and family, because lord knows how difficult regaining your footing is to begin with. Hamilton's relapses are dealt with on "Outside the Lines" with Bob Ley.
The media would be doing right by Josh Hamilton to just leave this one alone. No news is good news - I get that. We all love a good train wreck. But after an extremely rough year, Josh Hamilton is entitled to making a mistake without being blasted by the media. I'm not saying that what he did was right, but then again, NO ONE is perfect. We all have our slip ups from time to time.
My hope for Josh is that folks will find more importance in his recovery than they'll find by rubbernecking at his misfortunes. Only when the spotlight is turned off will he finally find peace within himself, and Hamilton needs that now more than ever.