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Joshua

Making the front page of the News&Observer this morning is an article on Hamilton who grew up in Raleigh area. It was news to me that Joshua (what his father in law now calls him) could throw a 99 MPH fastabll in high school. On to the article by Tim Stevens:

Hamilton seeking return to baseball: "Josh Hamilton, the first player taken in the 1999 Major League Baseball draft, admits he has been addicted to alcohol and cocaine. But he says he has enrolled in a recovery program, has been sober and drug-free for nearly six months and hopes to be allowed to return to baseball in mid-season."

Now 23, Hamilton, a graduate of Raleigh's Athens Drive High school, was listed on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' roster this spring, but is entering his second full season of suspension from professional baseball for drug use. He hasn't played in a game since July 2002.

"It has been hard," Hamilton said last week in an interview at his new home in Fuquay-Varina.

"I could always do things when I tried. It has taken me a while to learn that I can't handle this alone. I wouldn't have admitted that a year ago."

Last fall Hamilton wrote to Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball and the one with the power to lift the suspension, explaining his situation, asking forgiveness and telling the commissioner he wanted to return. Selig's response Nov. 29 praised Hamilton for coming to grips with addiction, encouraged him to keep battling and said that he, too, hoped Hamilton would one day return to baseball.

Hamilton's punishment is the most severe the sport has levied to date for drug use. But he remains hopeful and last week got a call from Chuck LaMar, the Devil Rays' general manager. "It was the first time I've heard from management in a while," he said.

The Devil Rays organization did not respond to requests for comment; but Vince Naimoli, managing general partner of the Devil Rays, recently told the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, "I've got my fingers crossed. His family situation has really helped."

Every morning, when Hamilton wakes up and vows to stay sober another day, he says his first thoughts are of Katie, his wife of five months, and the baby they are expecting in August; of Julia, his 3-year-old stepdaughter; and others, including his father-in-law, Michael Dean Chadwick, and his pastor, Jimmy Carroll, who are supporting him.

Hamilton is now in a 12-step program, attends support meetings daily and accompanies his father-in-law, who works with troubled youths and addicts through Mike Chadwick Ministries, on speaking engagements. Hamilton is also active in the church that Carroll is starting.

"When you are addicted, you don't care about yourself, your family or anyone else," Hamilton said. "All you are concerned with is the next high."

On his own

When Hamilton signed with the Devil Rays in 1999 for a $3.6 million bonus, his potential seemed limitless.

His fastball was timed at 99 mph, on a par with the hardest-throwing pitchers in the major leagues. But Devil Rays officials thought he could be even better as an outfielder, because he also was a powerful and consistent hitter, a strong fielder and a speedy runner.

Hamilton traces his troubles to spring 2001. He was expected to have a shot at making the Rays' major-league team after only a couple of years in the minor leagues.

Then the truck he was riding in with his mother and father was hit by a dump truck that ran a red light in Bradenton, Fla.

His mother had to be cut from the wreckage and was hospitalized. Hamilton's back was injured.

His parents, who had been with him on every step of his baseball journey, decided to return to North Carolina while their son recuperated.

For the first time in his life, Hamilton was making decisions on his own; and for the first time, baseball did not fill every waking moment.

One day he ventured into a Bradenton tattoo shop and got the first of his 26 tattoos. "The people were friendly and accepting," he said. "It was a good place to be." His acquaintances at the shop invited him to a party; and there, he said, after drinking beer for the first time, he used cocaine for the first time.

"You are talking about a guy who had never tasted alcohol or used any drug when he was 20 years old," Hamilton said.

Subsequent cocaine use, he said, always came after he had been drinking.

"I'd have five or six drinks to take the edge off, and it would numb this little part of my brain right here," he said pointing to his forehead. "That's the part that tells me to not use drugs."

Two weeks after that eventful party, the Devil Rays sent Hamilton to a sports psychologist to discuss how he was mentally dealing with his back injury. Hamilton casually mentioned that he was experimenting with alcohol and drugs.

Twenty-four hours later, he was in Rancho Mirage, Calif., enrolled in a 30-day rehabilitation program at the Betty Ford Clinic. He left after eight days against the advice of the staff.

"I kept telling myself I wasn't addicted," he said. "I had experimented for less than two weeks."

The next year, after playing half a season with the Devil Rays Class A affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif., he injured his shoulder and returned to Raleigh. He underwent surgery on the shoulder and on a minor knee problem. Once again he had time on his hands.

An occasional drink with old baseball buddies escalated. Soon he was seeking cocaine.

In spring 2003, Hamilton reported to training camp with the Devils Rays and was assigned to their Class AA team in Orlando.

"When I was back in that environment, it hit me for the first time how big my problem was," he said.

The sport of baseball, to which he had devoted himself since age 3, had rewarded him with a lucrative major-league contract, but his career was unraveling.

"I was throwing away what I had worked for all of my life," he said, "but I couldn't help myself."

He decided to take personal leave that lasted throughout the season as he tried to sort through his problems.

A strange visit

At 11:30 one night in September 2003, he found himself knocking on the door of Michael Dean Chadwick's home in Cary. "To this day, I don't know why," Hamilton said.

He had dated Katie Chadwick a few times when both were seniors at Athens Drive High School and knew her father. Michael Chadwick, who had already gone to bed, came to the door to greet a young man nearing the end of his rope. "I was messed up," Hamilton said.

The two sat on the deck and talked much of the night.

Chadwick, a nationally known speaker who has fought his own addictions, was willing to help. But he said he needed to know one thing from Hamilton: "Did he want me to hold the umbrella for him for a little while, or did he want to change the climate he was living in? I'll hold the umbrella for a little while, but I'm not going to be somebody's permanent umbrella holder."

A year passed before Hamilton became sober.

"It is a process," Chadwick said. "He didn't get in the ditch in a day, and he couldn't crawl out of it all at once, either. "

After again failing drug tests in February 2004, Hamilton was suspended from baseball for 30 days and went to a rehabilitation clinic in Minnesota. There he learned -- by reading a newspaper, he said -- that on March 19 he had been suspended for the entire 2004 season.

In August, when he failed to appear for another drug test, his suspension was extended for the 2005 season.

"I had been in the [rehab] programs, but I never followed up," he said. "I knew what to do but didn't do it."

When Hamilton began his recent recovery program, Chadwick said, he was told there was a 90 percent chance his son-in-law wouldn't make it. Six weeks later, he was told that Hamilton's chances had risen to 50-50.

"Today," Chadwick said, "they say there is a very, very, very good chance that Joshua will make it."

New faith, new hope

Hamilton, who says he has been alcohol- and drug-free since Sept. 21, is preparing for that possibility. He hits in a batting cage every day and recently has worked out with the N.C. State team -- the program he signed with during his senior year in high school but turned down to accept a professional baseball contract.

He is thinking about what he would need to do to deal with the strong temptations he would face should he return to professional baseball and be on the road without his family.

"There are 12-step programs all over the country," he said. "And there are great people involved who would come and pick me up and hold me accountable. The first thing I'll do when I get back to baseball is find where there are meetings in every city where I play."

Regardless of baseball's decision, he said, he has a new peace in his life, because of spiritual growth.

He carries a blue laminated card in his wallet labeled "Footprints." It tells a story: Sometimes, when God seems to have forsaken you, he is really carrying you through hard times. Hamilton said it is the story of his life. He wears a new gold chain carrying a locket that is a small book with the Ten Commandments.

Last week, at a meeting of his church, something happened that affected him profoundly. "At the end of the service, I closed my eyes, and all I could see was Jesus with his arms outstretched," Hamilton said. "I cried like a baby, but it brought such a relief in my life. I have a peace I can't explain."

He said he wrestles every day with not drinking. As a precaution he recently began taking Antabuse, a medicine that reacts to alcohol with stomach-wrenching suddenness.

"I drive past a country store and think one beer wouldn't hurt," he said. "I know that it could cost me everything -- my home, my family, my happiness -- but my body is saying one won't hurt. The Antabuse is just one more thing to help me."

A gift of belonging

Hamilton says his greatest motivation is family and believes that when Katie Chadwick came back into his life, it was a gift. She fell in love with the young man her father calls "Joshua," not the guy on the baseball cards.

"She has never seen me play a single baseball game," he said.

"When Katie and I started dating, she had no idea that I still had money or that I might be allowed back into baseball. She has stayed by me through some bad times."

Because of the way his original contract was structured, Hamilton is financially secure. Part of the money he received was controlled by his parents.

"That has caused some hard feelings in the family at times," he said, "but it is a good thing the contract was drawn that way."

His stepdaughter will turn 4 on March 14. "I just look at her and realize all the people that are supporting me and counting on me," he said. "She is unbelievable."

Hamilton often accompanies his father-in-law when he speaks to teams, church or youth groups.

"When he goes and speaks to a youth group or a group of men, all those people not only become his supporters, but Joshua is accountable to them," Chadwick said. "They are pulling for him, and they are counting on him.

"The final story of Joshua Hamilton has not been written. It is going to be a glorious story that will help millions of people."