As anyone who knows me knows I am a huge baseball and Cincinnati Reds fan. I am also a huge fan of Josh Hamilton, the former Red and current All-Star outfielder for the Texas Rangers. Last night Hamilton put on a home run hitting clinic at the annual MLB home run derby. He not only hit 28 home runs in one round (four more than anyone has ever hit in a round and twenty more than anyone hit in this years first round), but he consistently hit them farther and harder than anyone in the competition. He even hit one off the back wall of Yankee stadium. As a baseball fan I knew I was watching an amazing feat.
Before the home run derby I knew Hamilton would put on a hitting display. Last year I watched batting practice before a Reds-Pirates game and was absolutely astounded and captivated by watching him hit. He has such an easy and free swing, yet the ball just jumps off his bat. Every time he hit the ball it sounded crisper and louder than any other player I ever witnessed. His hits were like jets streaking across the sky at supersonic speed, while everyone else's hits were like, well, er, baseballs hit by talented, yet mortal baseball players. Yet, Josh Hamilton is mortal.
Josh Hamilton is certainly a modern-day version of The Natural, a story based on Bernard Malamud's 1952 novel about Roy Hobbs, a "natural" baseball phenom who's career is cut short, but who, against all odds, makes an amazing return 16 years later only to fall from grace at the end. Only, I prefer to think that Hamilton's story is more like the 1984 movie version of Malamud's novel. In the movie version Hobbs ends his career with the New York Knights by hitting a walk off, light shattering, ball unravelling, pennant winning home run. The movie ends with Hobbs playing catch with his son.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, Hamilton's story is not over. How it will turn out is unknown, because Josh Hamilton is a drug addict. Each new day may be the day he relapses. It is only through his faith in God and the support of his friends and family that he has been given a second chance. And what a second chance it's been. After being out of baseball for three years and never before playing above single A minor league baseball, Hamilton is arguably the best baseball player in the game today. Also, take into consideration that the years he was out of baseball he was a suicidal crack addict.
Josh Hamilton's amazing story should be an inspirational story for everyone. He made amazingly stupid mistakes by getting into drugs in the first place. Haven't we all made stupid mistakes in our life? Most of us haven't been to where Josh Hamilton's been as far as addiction and despair (although there are many people there right now), but we have all regretted mistakes that we have made. That is part of being human--we are imperfect, we make mistakes, but we can make things right.
Isn't this something that we need to teach our students? Try your best, but when you fail (like we all do), learn from it and make things right. And there will be teachers, counselors, friends, parents who will be there to help.
If you want to learn more about Josh Hamilton and what he's been through read these excellent articles:
"I'm proof that hope is never lost," by Josh Hamilton (as told to Tim Keown)
ESPN The Magazine, July 5, 2007
Faith brings Texas Rangers' Hamilton back from the brink, by Evan Grant
The Dallas Morning News, February 29, 2008
The Super Natural, by Albert Chen
Sports Illustrated, May 27, 2008