Josh Hamilton might be Major League Baseball’s version of the Bible’s prodigal son.
Hamilton, a rising star since grade school, became the top pick in the 1999 MLB draft after graduating from high school. He signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for $3.96 million, a record amount at the time for a top draft pick.
Playing minor league baseball, Hamilton appeared to be on the fast track to stardom. But after living a straight-arrow life, something happened. His body began to look like a walking advertisement for tattoo parlors, and he made surprisingly bad choices, leaving his body full of drugs.
Instead of a great future, his life spun out of control. He became a crack addict. If there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s likely an oncoming train.
His marriage was a disaster, his dream of stardom as a MLB player appeared to be over, and he managed to waste most of his nearly $4 million contract.
As a last resort, he turned to his grandmother for help. Josh put his faith in Jesus and started the laborious process of getting his life back together.
In his book “Beyond Belief” Josh wrote, “I was broken, but I was healing. Piece by piece, I was healing.”
His comeback and eventual success in baseball is a genuinely amazing story. Equally amazing is his wife Katie’s love.
For all practical purposes, she had lost her husband, Josh. She came home from the hospital with a new baby, which should be a joyous occasion, and found only worry and fear.
Josh wrote, “She was raising Julia and Sierra by herself, and her inability to understand why I insisted on self-destructing rather than being with people who loved and cared for me was more than she could bear.”
But she didn’t give up. She called Josh at his grandmother’s house and said, “Josh, I just want you to know that I forgive you. And I also want you to know that I won’t hold anything you’ve done against you from now on. If you can keep getting better and we can work to reconcile our relationship, I promise not to bring any of this stuff up again.”
During the challenging road back to becoming drug free, Josh repeated a Bible verse that became his new mantra: “Humble yourself before God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
After being cleared by MLB, Josh was given one more chance. He said, “God had given me new life and presented me with a miracle. I was back in the game.
“I stood there looking at my wife and baby. The tears rolled down my cheeks and lost themselves in my smile. I was proof that hope is never lost.”
Hamilton doesn’t pull any punches in his book. His story covers the rise and fall of a great athlete. It talks about spiritual warfare. It’s a book about never losing hope.
His fame grew dramatically at last year’s All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium when he put on an unbelievable show in the Home Run Derby competition. At one point he hit 13 straight pitches over the fence, and finished with 28 in the first round, beating the old single-round record by four.
Before a game in Chicago, a man came up to Hamilton while he was signing autographs and said, “Josh, I brought my sister here to see you. She couldn’t get off drugs and tried everything.”
Hamilton wrote, “There are so many people out there searching; so many people who struggle and want to do better, but can’t find the strength. So many confused, sad, desperate people who need the right kind of guidance to change their lives.
“People just like me.”
His story is amazing and inspiring, but the final chapter is yet to be written. The biggest test of all may still await him. Will he be able to keep his life together amid the many challenges and temptations that are sure to come?
I pray that his faith is up to the test.