Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Josh Hamilton's Home Run Triumph

by James Hurst

Last Monday night, Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers hit 28 home runs in the first round of the Home Run Derby in New York to shatter the previous record. The record was held by Bobby Abreu of the New York Yankees who hit 24 dingers.

The home run is one of the great status symbols of baseball. When you think of the greatest players in the game, you think of Mays, Mantle, Ruth, Aaron, Duke Snider, Jimmy Foxx, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson---all home run hitters. Certainly there are other superstars in the game that might come to mind. They may have been great pitchers, or infielders, or players who hit for average.

But the big money has always gone to the home run hitters, and that is where Josh Hamilton made his name Monday night. There was not one baseball superstar in attendance at the game who was not in awe of Hamilton’s accomplishments. David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Griffey Junior, and the rest of them took a back seat to Hamilton.

Hamilton ended the second round with a total of 32 homers, and had to face off against Justin Morneau, the Minnesota Twin who hails from New Westminster, British Columbia. Morneau trailed Hamilton by 15 home runs; however, at that point the slate was wiped clean, and the batters had to start again at point zero.

Morneau batted first and hit five home runs before recording his tenth out. Any ball that the batter swung at that did not classify as a home run was counted as an out. Hamilton was virtually spent, could manage only three round-trippers in the final, and gave up the crown to Morneau.

Morneau was quoted in the MLB.com news: “We are all in awe. You want to see that story end in a good way.”

The Josh Hamilton story began in a good way. He was the first overall draft in 1999 by Tampa Bay, out of Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. Following his senior season, he was named High School Player of the Year by Baseball America and Amateur Player of the Year by USA Baseball.

He signed with the Devil Rays, receiving $ 3.96 million signing bonus. He spent his first season in the Devil Ray chain with Princeton Devil Rays, and the Hudson Valley Renegades. He spent the 2000 season with the Charleston RiverDogs in the South Atlantic League. He was accompanied in his travels by his parents, who had quit their jobs so that they could travel with their son.

Just before the start of the 2001 season, Hamilton was involved in a serious car accident. His mother was also injured, and went home to recuperate with her husband. At that point in time, things started to unravel for Hamilton, and he began a series of seasons in and out of baseball, and in and out of drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

He did not play baseball at all from 2002 to 2006.

Through the efforts of Roy Silver, who owns a baseball academy in Florida, and Rick Zolzer, the Hudson Valley Renegades’ director of special events, Hamilton began to change. But it was through the efforts of his grandmother, Mary Holt, that Josh made the conversion. Simply stated: “It’s a God thing. Faith in Christianity is what brought me back. It is what keeps me going.”

The Rays gave up on Hamilton and left him off their 40 man roster. The Cubs picked him up as a Rule 5 Draft, for $ 50 000. He was then sold to the Cincinnati Reds, and spent the 2007 season with the Reds. Last December, the Reds traded
Hamilton to the Texas Rangers.

He plans to stay in Texas. He provides urine samples for testing three times a week. Rangers’ Coach Johnny Narron thinks he looks forward to the testing.

Currently, Hamilton leads the American league with 95 runs batted in, and is tied for third with 21 homers. He has a respectable .310 batting average. Justin Morneau is second with a .323 BA, and third with 68 RBIs. He has 14 home runs.

With the season well past the half way mark, races have tightened up in all divisions. The Tigers have rebounded from their horrendous start, and are knocking on the door in the Central Division. The Blue Jays are making noise in the east, as their dormant bats come alive. And yes, the Red Sox are again perched above the rest, slightly ahead of the faltering Rays. And the Yankees? With all the hoopla at Yankee Stadium in its final season, they will find ways to win games and challenge for the titles.

Keep the faith.

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