This Good Feeling Might Just Stay with You, Just a Little Longer

I come to you today with a true feel-good story. Not one of those syrupy things like how

Craig Biggio has touched your life

, or

Lance Berkman relaying religious cheer throughout the city

.

No. This is a real life, too good to be true, feel-good story.

Let me take you back in time, to the summer of 1999. Baseball’s just held its amateur draft, and the very first player selected, by the woebegone Tampa Bay Devil Rays, is a young man named Josh Hamilton. This kid is the Natural. He’s got all five of the baseball tools: he can hit, he can hit for power, he’s got a good arm, he’s got speed, and he can field his position. He’s Darryl Strawberry without all of the baggage.

And, for two seasons, he burns up the D-Rays farm system. Then there’s an automobile accident which injures Hamilton and him mother. Then his mom and dad go back home, leaving Hamilton on his own. And Hamilton meets up with some fun dudes who do tattoos and the next thing you know he’s a 20-year old kid hanging out in strip clubs discovering alcohol and drugs.

First there’s the cocaine, then there’s the crack. And in 2003 the D-Rays put Hamilton on the restricted list, which means that he can’t play baseball. Major League Baseball follows with a suspension in 2004 because he violated his drug treatment and prevention program.

Hamilton misses the 2003, 2004, and 2005 seasons in their entirety, and he plays only 16 games in 2006. Oh, and have I mentioned that he’s never played above A-ball?

The off-season comes around and the D-Rays drop Hamilton from the 40-man roster. And Reds manager Jerry Narron knows about Hamilton. Knows the kid’s family, and he convinces the Reds to pick up Hamilton in the Rule 5 draft.

Then comes Spring Training and Hamilton kills the ball, batting .403. Now, if the Reds don’t put Hamilton on its major league roster, he goes back to Tampa Bay. But the Reds like the kid, and come April 1, he’s a 25-year old rookie playing his first game in the majors. Hell, he’s playing his first ever game above the A-ball level.

Going into last night’s game, Josh Hamilton was batting .266 with six homers and 13 RBI – and man, wouldn’t the Astros just kill for someone with those numbers.

Hamilton’s not home free, of course. The guy’s a drug addict. And any baseball fan can you tell you what happened to the lives of players such as Steve Howe, Darryl Strawberry, and Dwight Gooden tried playing with drug addictions. The ends weren’t pretty. But then again, Dave Parker and Keith Hernandez had productive careers and productive post-careers despite problems with cocaine. So, here’s hoping that Josh Hamilton’s really got his life together.

And, Josh, despite what you’re doing to the Astros, welcome to the Big Leagues. -- John Royal

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