In his first full Major League season with the Cincinnati Reds, Josh Hamilton has been on the disabled list twice and played for a team buried in last place.
And he couldn't be happier about it.
"It's been a miracle, to go from where I came from to where I am now," he said. "I lost everything -- family, health, wealth."
Nobody had a brighter future than Hamilton when he was chosen No. 1 overall in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Devil Rays. An outfielder-pitcher, he possessed can't-miss credentials as USA Baseball's Amateur Player of the Year and Baseball America's High School Player of the Year. He hit .529 with a school record 13 homers and 35 RBIs and went 7-1 with a 2.50 ERA for Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, N.C.
It was 18 months after the Draft that things began unraveling for Hamilton. He was injured in an automobile accident, and during his rehab, he began finding trouble. Drugs and alcohol became his daily focus. He has tattoos covering both arms and legs, souvenirs of a terrible time in his life, a time when he landed on baseball's restricted list for violating the sport's joint drug treatment and prevention program.
"I was just making bad choices," he said.
Hamilton was on the restricted list for three years from 2003-05, years when other players picked behind him in the 1999 Draft like Josh Beckett, Barry Zito, Ben Sheets and Alex Rios were becoming Major League stars.
His life spun out of control, his mind set only on where he could get the next drink, the next fix. There were times he thought about suicide, considering it the only way out of the hopeless downward spiral his life had become.
Every addict reaches rock bottom at some point. For Hamilton, it came when he showed up one day at his grandmother's house, this once strapping 6-foot-4 youngster down to 180 pounds.
"To see her face, to see how she looked at me, to see tears in her eyes," Hamilton said. "I realized how much I was hurting my family, how much wrong I was doing. I had made so many poor choices. I had to hold myself accountable."
Hamilton had eight trips to rehab, as he tried to escape from the demons within him.
"I didn't get clean every time," he said. "I tried to do it on my own. I had never dealt with anything like that. I had always been successful wherever I was. Now I had to learn how not to surrender [to drugs]. I didn't know how much work was involved. I learned that you've got to do it for yourself. You can't get better for everybody else. That doesn't work. You've got to do it for yourself."
Hamilton reclaimed his life on Oct. 5, 2005. He has been clean ever since. Restored to good standing by baseball on June 30, 2006, he played 15 Minor League games and then showed up on Tampa's list of players eligible for baseball's Rule 5 Draft. He was picked by the Chicago Cubs last winter and then traded to Cincinnati.
Hamilton -- currently on the 15-day disabled list after spraining his right wrist -- has flourished with the Reds, batting .279 with 14 home runs. He is eternally grateful for the second chance the Reds have given him and is a poster boy for keeping hope alive.
"If not for the Reds, for people willing to give me a second chance, I don't know where I would be," Hamilton said. "I have faith in myself, in what kind of person I was before the problems."
And he has become an example for others.
"The first road trip in Arizona, a fan called me over and said he respected what I was doing," Hamilton said. "Some people rag on me. They have the right to say what they want. Every day I wake up in the morning, every day is a blessing."
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York City.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.