Baseball demons, angels and Jesus

Texas Rangers left fielder Josh Hamilton acknowledges the fans after it was announced he had won the American League Batting Title for the highest batting average, in the eighth inning of their MLB American League baseball game in Arlington, Texas October 3, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

When my beloved Texas Rangers clinched the American League West championship on Sept. 25, Josh Hamilton steered clear of the champagne-and-cigar celebration in the visitors’ clubhouse in Oakland, Calif.

The difference in how various media outlets covered the absence of Hamilton, a leading AL Most Valuable Player candidate, was interesting.

ESPN Dallas seemed to go out of its way to avoid any mention of Jesus Christ or Hamilton’s Christian faith:

Hamilton, whose baseball career was derailed for several years by drug and alcohol abuse, felt it was smarter for him to avoid the champagne and beer showers in the Rangers clubhouse. So he stayed in the trainer’s room, showered and kept his commitment to speak to a large fan gathering in the stadium as part of Faith Day in Oakland.

He was able to hug teammates and celebrate with them on the field right after the final out of a 4-3 Rangers victory. A large group of his teammates got the idea to dump water on him instead of champagne as part of the celebration, but Hamilton was already dressed and headed out to his speaking engagement when they located him.

Later, there’s this:

Hamilton’s troubled past is well documented. He was a can’t-miss prospect when Tampa Bay made him the No. 1 overall pick out of high school in the 1999 draft. But drug and alcohol abuse sidetracked his career, and he was out of baseball by 2003.

He credits his religious faith for helping him overcome his addictions, and he finally made it to the majors with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007. He was traded to the Rangers in 2008 and has developed into one of the game’s most dangerous hitters.

So … Faith Day. Religious faith. At this point, I’m surprised the story went ahead and called him a Texas Ranger rather than a generic major-league baseball player.

Contrast that with the Associated Press story about Hamilton skipping the clubhouse party:

He had to convince a few teammates to not pour bottles of water on him, explaining he had other postgame activities in mind. It was church day in Oakland and Hamilton planned to join some of the Athletics in sharing stories of their faith with fans.

“So it would be kind of hypocritical of me to come in here and douse myself with alcohol and smoke cigars and then go out there and talk about Jesus,” Hamilton said.

So … Church Day. Jesus. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

My wife, children and I got to see Hamilton up close at Rangers’ spring training in Surprise, Ariz., in 2009. We were with a college group on a spring break mission trip to the Phoenix area. A friendly Hamilton posed for pictures with my children and visited with the Christian university students in our group. When one of the students asked Hamilton about his faith, he smiled and pulled a devotional guide out of his uniform sock. I was surprised and impressed.

But several months later, I was disappointed when news surfaced of Hamilton relapsing that previous winter. Photos were published involving the drunken slugger, whipped cream and women who were not his wife. Mollie posted last year on the media coverage of that incident.

This past Sunday, The Dallas Morning News recalled that incident in a remarkable Page 1 story about Hamilton and the role of his Christian faith in helping him overcome his addictions and sins:

On the chilly morning of Jan. 22, 2009, when everything else in her life seemed to be working out perfectly, Katie Hamilton received a phone call at her home outside Raleigh, N.C.

It was her husband, Josh, calling from Tempe, Ariz., where he had gone to a boot camp for athletes. Hamilton had become famous the year before for leading the American League in runs batted in and making the All-Star team in his first full season as a major leaguer.

And now he was calling his wife to tell her, through choking sobs, that after three years of sobriety, he had relapsed. He had gone out late the previous evening, alone, to a pizza restaurant, which happened to have a bar. He had a vodka and cranberry juice, then another, then went to a bar and had many more. He told her he didn’t remember everything that happened, but that there might be “pictures.” Katie told him to come home, and then she prayed.

The 1,900-word story goes into great detail to explain the role of pastors and “accountability partners” in Hamilton’s life … to describe how he sees nearly everything he does outside of baseball as a ministry … and to point out the specific steps he has taken to avoid the demons that allowed him to burn through a $4 million signing bonus in four years, including spending $100,000 in drugs in six weeks.

The writer, S.C. Gwynne, lets the story unfold naturally, mostly through the perspective of Hamilton and his wife, although others, such as Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, are quoted. Readers can determine for themselves the sincerity of Hamilton’s faith. (I must acknowledge that if I were the editor, I would have added a he says to facts such as this: he has been clean since that night in Tempe.)

But to his credit, Gwynne reports the story without condescension. Now, that should be a given in a mainstream news account. As GetReligion readers know all too well, though, that is not always the case in such reports.

If Gwynne’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s a veteran Texas journalist who reported stories with Godbeat legend Richard Ostling at Time magazine and drew GetReligion praise from Tmatt for his Texas Monthly piece on Fort Worth Episcopal — er, Anglican — Bishop Jack Iker.

Gwynne’s professionalism and experience shine through in his Hamilton story.

By the way, the Rangers’ opening playoff game against the Tampa Bay Rays starts at 12:37 p.m. my time. I’ve already filled out the proper medical excuse form to take off from work.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com mattk

    A little off topic, but is anyone else amazed that this guy used $100,000 in drugs in 6 weeks and was still able to play baseball? That’s about a kilo of cocaine of per week. If it was meth he was using it must have been a crazy huge amount of the drug. I’m amazed he is alive.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    It is amazing that he’s alive. He may win the MVP and still not get a big-time contract. He has done so much to his body that he always seems one crash into an outfield wall away from a career-ending injury.

  • Peggy

    Good on him. Being in “Cardinal Nation” I had never heard of him.

    It’s interesting to see this soon after your post on the AA manuscript being published by Hazeldon and debates about alternative paths to sobriety. God saves us from sin and temptation. Yes, there are many paths to sobriety, but most include the support (accountability) network as well as faith in “a higher power.” (except “Smart Recovery”). I did have to delve into the DMN story to see where he attended church when he’s home with his family. I am glad he’s anchored. It’s only been a year. One day at a time. He must remain vigilant. Godspeed to him.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Yes, Peggy, it took a while to mention his home congregation. I was thinking as I neared the end that I would bring that up as an unanswered question. But then the article answered it, albeit late in the piece.

    I also wondered about the reference to “the Christian term ‘accountability partners.’” I didn’t realize that term was limited to Christians.

  • http://bovinabloviator.blogspot.com The Bovina Bloviator

    ESPN Dallas seemed to go out of its way to avoid any mention of Jesus Christ or Hamilton’s Christian faith…

    Certainly not, it might have offended their Muslim viewers.

  • Passing By

    I read this story at one setting in the Sunday DMN and never thought about how good it was.

    It was that good.


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