Flashback Q&A with Josh Hamilton

(Originally Published on AOL Sports, August 2, 2007)

“Josh from Cincinnati”

My little subheading is playing off HBO’s new, hard-to-know-what-the-hell-is-happening show, John from Cincinnati.   I like the show.  Recently, for another publication, I interviewed Austin Nichols who plays the enigmatic, could-be-alien title character.  (Great guy.)

Many people have trouble with the show because it provides no answers.  There’s no resolution at the end of each episode.  You get no rest, just more questions.  You know, like real life.

But why did David Milch, the brilliant writer/producer of NYPD Blue and Deadwood choose Cincinnati as the place where it is believed his pivotal character comes from? Milch doesn’t make random, meaningless choices. Could it be that Cincinnati, of all places, is where the most heartbreaking issues of betrayal, redemption, mercy and forgiveness converge?

Take the story of Maurice Stokes. He was the powerful rebounding forward for the NBA’s 1958-59 Cincinnati Royals. As a result of being knocked unconscious during a game, Stokes suffered post-traumatic encephalopathy, a brain injury that damaged his motor control center, leaving him in coma, permanently paralyzed.  He died at the age of 38.  All-Star games, celebrity golf fundraisers and athletic centers have been named in his honor.  Also take the story of the Cincinnati Reds Pete Rose.  For so long he was the picture of pure baseball. Now he is synonymous with disgrace. Baseball still cannot forgive him.

Then there’s Josh Hamilton.  The current Reds outfielder is a great modern day story of a second chance.  He’ll be the first to tell you he couldn’t have done it alone. His case reminds me of the story I heard told on the hit NBC show, The West Wing, but I’m sure it’s been told in many places:

Man falls into a hole. He can’t get out. People gather around but no one can help him.  A priest comes by and says a few Hail Mary’s, but he can’t get out of the hole.  A Rabbi comes by and reads from the Old Testament, but he can’t get out of the hole.  Then a friend comes by and jumps down in the hole with him. The man says to his friend “Oh great. Now we’re both stuck down here.” The friend says back “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before.  And I know the way out.”

Josh Hamilton got out. Now he’s in Cincinnati, playing baseball.

Your road to recovery has been well documented and celebrated. Now that the spotlight has died down, is this the hard part –  living day-to-day with day-to-day little things?

It’s really not. I wasn’t looking at it before like the day-to-day routine was any different: being with family, going to park and doing my job.  I still get opportunities to share my story in different cities but at the same time it’s really no different to me.

With everything that’s happened in your life, is there a new perspective on what baseball means to you?

It means the same now as it meant when I was six or seven years old. It’s just life.  It’s  not the whole life.  I don’t really have a  new perspective on it.  I just have a new passion for it, I guess you could say.

I guess you could say you have a second chance. Have you ever seen the movie The Natural, or read the book?

Oh yeah. It’s one of my favorite movies.

Do you see any similarities between Roy Hobbes and what you’ve got going now?

A movie is a movie and life is life. That movie’s been out for years and years and it kind of delivers the same message my story does, as far as people making mistakes. It’s all about how you get through those mistakes – overcoming them, learning from them and moving on to the future.

You must really love of the game to come back like this. You didn’t have to come back to baseball you could’ve gotten another job. How much does baseball help keep you on the beam?

When I got drafted and playing those first couple years, I would’ve said baseball was life. It was all I cared about and all I really wanted to do. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I got back to playing it. And at the same time, I realize now that baseball is not everything. That was the biggest key for me. Life is too big now. Baseball is just something that I can do, that I enjoy doing and something I can do to make a living which is a huge added bonus.

Some people equate Steroids with drug abuse.  What do you think about that?

I never did take steroids. I’ve never understood that if a guy can hit a ball 500 feet, if you can throw a ball from the outfield to where it needs to be or throw it across the infield then why do you need to do it?  But at the same time I can understand looking at it from a guy who’s been in the minor leagues for 8 years, Triple A, still trying to get over that hump. I can understand a guy thinking about doing it then. It’s something I never did because I never felt like I needed to do it. Everybody’s got different opinions on it. Mine is that it shouldn’t be allowed, you knew you weren’t supposed to do it, but it happened and now they’re getting control of it so I think it’s going to make the game more even.

You were the first draft pick overall in 1999, how hard is it to explain to some people that  it’s just as hard to deal with success as it is to deal with  failure?

It all comes down to the choices you make. When you have failure you’ve got a lot of the same choices to make as when you have success. When I got drafted I got almost $4 million to play.  The pressure form everybody else really didn’t get to me. It was the pressure I put on myself to perform.  That was the main thing. At that time it didn’t matter how much I had going or how much money I had or how many things I could get, I was never happy.  I ended going down that road that I went down. Ever since I surrendered and gave it all over to the Lord, it’s been unbelievable how much happier I am. The last couple years out there I had nothing – just my wife and kids – but I put them through hell. Now the last year and half I’ve been happier without material things than I have been my whole life.

In your fight to stay sober what are the triggers you look for?

The main thing is thinking about it. Everyone once in while a thought will pop in my head about the past or using or place where I was a at a certain time and what I was doing there. The key to that is when it pop in, you think about something else. You don’t think about start dwelling on what you went through. You change your way of thinking and tht basically takes care of that.

In recovery they talk a lot about feeling your feelings and how difficult that can be. But is there any better feeling in life than hitting a home run in a major league ball park?

(laughs) Throwing somebody out in a major league ball park. I enjoy doing that more than hitting a home run. Don’t get me wrong I like hitting home runs too. But when you actually see the play develop: You see the guy on 3rd base or second or wherever he’s at. The ball’s hit. He’s taggin’. You can hear the roar of crow start to come up because they’re getting excited. Then you catch the ball and throw it adn before your eyes, he lays the tag on ‘em.  And then the crowd erupts. That’s something else.

In recovery you often hear about hitting bottom. What was your bottom and how did you know you were there?

I weigh 230 pounds now. Then I was 180 pounds. I showed up on my grandmother’s door. And I could just see it in her face how deathly I looked. If I hadn’t gone to my grandmother’s house that night October 2005, I might not be here right now. I stayed at her house. In the first week I used a couple times there. She knew I was doing it. And she came crying and said she couldn’t take it. She didn’t want to see me like that anymore. I was hurting everyone I loved. They were worrying to death. For some reason that moment made me realize how my life had spiraled down to where it was.

There are people who come into your life in recovery who you could never predict would be there.  Who is Roy Silver and what did he mean to you?

I tell you, Roy, I met him in 1999. He was with the Devil Rays coaching and we briefly talked in passing. I wasn’t again until January of 2006 that he read an article in one of the St. Pete papers where I said I wish I could just get back around baseball environment and have somebody to talk to. He called me. He runs a baseball school down in Clearwater and he said he’d give me that opportunity to do some work around there – vacuum, take trash out, grounds keeping — trade those services for be able to live  there and be around the game.  Him and Randy Holland were two guys that started this facility.  And all we did was work and they’d talk to me about the Lord. We had bible studies on Tuesday nights. Everyone there were solid people, solid Christians. They just loved on me.  When I did something wrong they punished me for it and when things were going good they rewarded me for it. It was such a win-win situation to be around baseball again and be around these kind of people who genuinely see good in others an want them to do better. It was just amazing.

Who is Michael Dean Chadwick?

That is my father-in-law. I went to him about 4 years ago. I wasn’t looking for a job. He owns a construction and land development business. He hired me.  He’s just one of these guys who’s always encouraging. I married his daughter. In our first year of marriage I put her through hell and I know there’s time she just wanted to choke me to death but he’s another one of those guys who just love on you unconditionally. He is a motivational speaker as well. He’s spoken to high school. college and professional teams. He’s just one those guys you want in your corner and will do anything for you.

What’s your relationship like with Lou Pinella?

Lou Pinella!  We first talked in 2003. He had just been named the coach of the Devil Rays. I went to spring training.  Met him. And that’s the time I went missing for four days. He called me in his office and told me I was a great talent and that he saw there was a few things I needed to get fixed, mentally. That was the extent of the conversation. At opening day this year, I went over to him. He hugged me and said he was proud of me. Said he was glad to see things were going well again. He said he never doubted my talent and that he knew I needed to get things under control and he was glad to see I’d done that. He’s always been a great guy to talk to. You can go in and talk to him and you know he’ll treat you like a man and respect what you’re gonna say, and he’ll tell you what he’s got to say.

You regain some things in recovery. But what do feel like you lost that you can never get back?

The time I lost in baseball. You can’t recover that. It was almost four years. I hurt some relationships along the way. Those are things you can definitely work on and amend. The main thing I would tell you is the time I missed.

When you see what’s happening to somebody like Doc Gooden, what goes through you mind?

I feel sorry for the guy. I know there’s a way out. I feel sorry for the family because I know how much pain it puts the family through. Really I just pray for the guy who is  still going through the things he’s going through.  There’s nothing anybody can do for that person unless that person wants to do it for themselves. All I can do is pray. I hope they turn their lives around and I know there’s something they can do to do that. It just makes me realize how fortunate I am to have started making the right decisions and living responsibly.

Even though the things you went through were painful and life threatening, do you feel grateful that you went through what you did to get to where you are now?

Absolutely. When you’re going through it you realize why you’re going through it.  I cursed God many times not understanding why I was going through it. When you come out of it, the light turns on.  I know that if I hadn’t gone through it I probably wouldn’t be married to Katy right now, wouldn’t have two kids, my relations with the Lord wouldn’t be as strong as it is right now, my relationships wit my family wouldn’t be where they are and I wouldn’t be back in baseball. There so much good that come from bad.

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