A New Kind of American Hero

Last December baseball hit arguably its lowest point since the 1994 strike cancelled the World Series, when MLB released its infamous Mitchell Report which identified current and former major leaguers that used some sort of performance enhancing drugs.

Isn’t it ironic then that in one of the highest points of the 2008 season, it is a recovering drug addict that hears his name chanted by 55,000+ fans on baseball’s grandest stage, Yankee Stadium.  Josh Hamilton blasted 28 mammoth home runs in the first round of the 2008 Home Run Derby last night and had the crowd screaming louder for a visiting player than I have ever heard.

It was a magic night for baseball and a magic night for Hamilton as this recovering addict became baseball’s newest hero hitting balls farther than I have ever seen anyone hit a ball in Yankee Stadium, reaching near the top of “The Black” (batter’s eye in centerfield) and sending a bomb over the rightfield bleachers and off an advertisement.   Not since the days of Reggie, The Mick or The Babe has someone captivated the nation with massive home runs at Yankee Stadium.

Hamilton is not just another reincarnated bash brother, in fact, his story is much more compelling.  Like Mantle and Ruth, Hamilton was once troubled by alcoholism and Hamilton went even further and was into drugs.  He was eventually banished from baseball and was completely absent from anything baseball related for an astounding three years.  Three years without seeing a major league pitch is a long time.

As a resident of the lower Hudson Valley in New York, I had the opportunity to see Hamilton play first-hand in the New York- Penn League (low A ball) with the Hudson Valley Renegades, the class A affiliate of the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays.  The first time around, Hamilton was this mega prospect that seemed destined for Cooperstown.  After his fall from grace, he came back through Hudson Valley and I got to watch him again.

Though I didn’t know him, since he played locally, I have always taken an interest in his career, the ups, downs, recovery and now, stardom.  Good for him, I thought, as I sat on the edge of my couch and watched him do things I have never seen done before at a place I like to think of as my summer home.  What he did last night was simply amazing.

I think Josh Hamilton is great for baseball.  Heroes aren’t always pure, clean, and perfect.  It’s been for too long that the stars of the baseball world have had squeaky clean images and say all the right things (see: Derek Jeter).  That’s great and all, but here’s a guy that truly exemplifies what America is all about.  He messed up…BIG TIME… but earned his way back the right way through hard work and dedication.  He remembers the lessons learned from being among the dregs of society and works to stay where he is – clean.

The guy talks with kids about drugs and messing his life up when not on the diamond, barely goes out with his teammates, and keeps a personal coach to make sure he stays in check.

Josh Hamilton’s showcase in the Bronx last night is evidence that you should never give up hope because hard work can take you anywhere.

What better role model can you ask for?

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