Results tagged ‘ Chuck LaMar ’

Never Play Cards with Friedman

Dear B J ,


Steve Nesius / AP

Hey there B J,

Got to tell you dude, lately you have doing some everlasting damage to your professional credibility here with your present boss, the Rays. Now we have known each other since  you first got called up in September 2001, when you were 17 and a few of us hit a local nightspot after a Yankees/Rays game and danced, chatted and got to know each other. I hope I can write to you as someone who has seen you grow as a ballplayer and offer some advice on your current problems. So take what I am about to say as a buddy just speaking to another buddy from heading towards a dangerous place.

No, it is not like you are attempting to go out on a building ledge and we need to talk you down, but you are in a very critical stage in your professional life where anything said from you right now is taken as gospel.  Now to even speak out of turn until your Batting Average and your fan approval  begins to again go north would be a very critical detour in your career. Seriously dude, when all that garbage came down a few years ago  from the local Durham fishwrap about the “Three Amigos” (Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes and moi) while with the Bulls, I was the guy fighting with Rays fans to see the words did not come from the “true” BJ, but from an “off the record”  BBQ conversation.

You rebuilt those bridges within the organization and showed you were a team player and you rebuilt your image to be sturdy and capable of taking on almost anything. But I have to level with you guy, right now the glaring games with the Umpires and the jawing after called third strikes along with the half efforts at flailing at balls outside the zone are making you look like a shadow of your former self.

E-man, I got to tell you this honestly, for a while there it looked like you were finally crawling out of that deep hole and were again showing that you loved hitting in the lead-off spot, but something suddenly died within your swing. Something zapped that energy and that strong will to strike that small white ball around like a toy.

Why is it that you got so upset about going down in the order? Dude, Joe Maddon has stood by and deflected the daily pot shots at you for so long that maybe he finally decided you needed to show some spunk and intestinal fortitude, and the 7-spot was a chance to sort it all out and still play every day.

Instead we got an entitlement attitude and a sense of lost focus at the plate. Dude, I know you still got it in you. Going down in the order sucks, but you are still living the dream and patroling the center fields of the MLB. And this latest bruhaha about you being moody about going to number 9 spot, Well stop it. I have to go with Maddon on this one dude. You forgot who B J Upton was there for a bit. You forgot the guy who the the opposition  nervous and sweaty while on base.
 

But If you truly want to know something……. Jason Bartlett did not like or want that lower spot in the either, but he smacked that ball and produced the hits and  drove in those guys in scoring position when you forgot how to play the game for a bit. Through him focusing  all his negative emotions onto his hitting, he got the desired spot he wanted. But he also thought of the nine hole as a “second lead-off” guy. And maybe that is where your mental state should sir right now. You get on base, you got guys coming up right behind you who have your back……everytime.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Understanding that was a move made for the team, not to punish you. It gives you an honest chance to readjust and refocus yourself to become the fiesty outfielder the fans have gotten to know and love. The actions that need to be taken were simple. You just need to now just chill a bit and accept things at the plate. Let Maddon go ot there and argue the balls and strikes.

Right now the more you whine to the guys in blue, the wider the strikezone might get before the end of this season. Smile, walk away and surpise everyone. Right now you are hiding within the shadow of a emerging star. You have not snuffed out the limelight, but it is growing dimmer. By showing maturity at plate, and towards the umpire crews, you will gain back that simple strikezone. Right now, I do not believe the umpires consider you a model citzen of the kingdom of MLB.

Secondly, get over all the chatter and ramblings about C C . I understand he is your sidekick, or vice versa. You guys will always be friends no matter if he plays here for in China. Look at the way CC is handling it, like a professional. He knows baseball is a business and he is hitting and playing like a fiend right now. He knows that the team could re-load the farm system with a trade for him. He is not happy about it, but both of you have seen enough guys come and go from the Ray to know it is not in your hands.

Come on guy, you are better than this B S. you truly know you got the stuff, or you would not be getting the chatter about your  “Web Gem” plays in Centerfield. You are within a whisper of getting your name mentioned with some of the best right now, and you might ruin it by sulking at the plate. Dude, they do not consider guys for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award who whine and sink at the plate. They do not give that beautiful Rawling trophy to guys who hits under .250 and does not look like they are leaders. That award is more than a defensive award, it recognizes the best of the best.

So the decision is yours dude. You know what this team needs right now is another bat to spring out and take control. Pat “the Bat” is beginning to find a small groove. The team has made a trade to get more production, and you now have got to carry your outfield weight. I am not asking you to hit .600 the next two months, but I am asking you go get on base, make pitchers nervous and be the B J we all came to watch play the game.

I got your back no matter what. I know how far you have sunk, and I know it is a tough road. But you got the goods to beat it and go forward from here. So why not take tonight’s game as a “coming out. part 2″ party and prove to some of the grumbling factions around the Rays Republic that you might be down, but you are not out.


Gail Burton / AP

Dude, just like the team, you are in a “must win” situation to garner  back the respect and the accolades you have sweated and labored for since that first call-up in 2001. It is time to take the Junior off your name is spirit and play like a man, take it like a man, and if defeated take your licks like a man. You know me, I will fight with words or fists to proclaim you are not a bum.
 

You have got to show these people the fire is still lit inside you. They think the flame is gone. It is time E-man. Time for you to show why we have been behind you for so long. It can be done with something as simple as a little more concentration and effort. So just think about what I am saying here. Think of what you are tossing to the side with those comments and outward anger. The number 9 slot is still in the lineup, you are not sitting on the bench watching Gabe Kapler or someone from the minor leagues play your spot.

Time to put childish things away like pity parties and temper tantrums and play like a professional again. You wanted this kind of attention and admiration since you were a young kid. Do not throw it all away on an attitude problem that will label you for the rest of your career. Tampa Bay has had this situation before, and his name was Jose Guillen.  Like you, he could play a fantastic outfield, could get the ball anywhere on the field. But he lacked plate discipline and focus. And that is the issue with you right now.

Not a lack of class, but of attitude and disbelief they would drop you down in the order. Remeber BJ, Guillen was here until his contract was up. After that he was free to go and became someone elses worry. I do not want to see you go down the same road. He was a great defender and could play the RF corner better than anyone who has ever put on a Rays jersey, but the drama with him on the team finally got to much. Young and Dukes are also gone because of their internal and external issues and frustrations surfacing at the wrong times.

Dude, all I am asking you to do it be that old BJ. The kid who could not wait to go to the ballpark and play baseball again. I am asking for that guy who used to grin when he got on base, smirk when he stole a base, and pump his fist when he scored a run.  want to see the guy who smiled before, during and after the game again. If not, then all I can say is I told you so.

Tampa Bay’s Pursuit of Basball..A Short History Lesson

 

                            

 

The pursuit of major league baseball in the Tampa Bay area began hard and furious in the  1988 after  the  proposed building of the Florida Suncoast Dome in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The area now had a viable baseball stadium within the  area, and also had an estimated 12,000 deposited Season Tickets on hand.  The area baseball group were tireless in their pursuit of either an existing team, or an expansion franchise for their new  domed stadium.

 


The local group them began to woo major-league baseball to the Sunshine State by visiting and trying to obtain ownership shares in existing MLB clubs that were in either financial trouble or wanted leverage to get stadiums or other breaks from their local city governments. Yet despite nearly eloping with several teams like the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, and San Francisco Giants, the region had to wait until 1998 to field a team of its own.


 

 

Baseball first arrived in Tampa/St. Petersburg as teams began to flock to Florida for spring training. The father of major-league baseball in the area was Al Lang, a Pittsburgh native who had moved to St. Petersburg in 1910 and within a few years had joined the management of the local ballpark. After failing to talk Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss into having his team train at Waterfront Park, the future home of Al Lang Field,  ( Dreyfuss refused, calling the backwater a “one-tank town” ) and watching the Chicago Cubs move their spring operation from New Orleans to nearby Tampa.

 

 

Lang finally convinced Branch Rickey to bring his St. Louis Browns to St. Pete. In anticipation of the team’s arrival, financing was approved for a new ballpark, seating 2,000 fans. The first game at the new field saw the Cubs defeat the “hometown” Browns 3-2, behind a first inning homer by rookie outfielder Cy Williams.  Professional baseball  in the town was an instant hit, and soon became so popular in St. Petersburg that businesses began to close early on weekdays so that fans could attend games.

 

 

 However, Rickey’s players, unable to find any other sources of entertainment (movie theaters closed early, and alcohol was forbidden by town law) were bored silly. Embroiled in a financing dispute, the Browns left after their first year to be replaced by the Philadelphia Phillies, who moved to the town’s training facilities in 1918. In 1922, the New York Yankees and Boston Braves arrived in St. Petersburg. Babe Ruth, the Yanks star attraction, was once chased out of the outfield by alligators at Huggins-Stengel Park located near the center of town.

 

 

 

In 1928, the baseball-mad city helped Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert turn a $60,000 spring training profit. The St. Louis Cardinals arrived in town in 1938 and stayed until 1997, at various times sharing the city with the Yankees, Giants, Mets, and the Orioles. Tampa, too, has had its share of spring training tenants, having hosted six teams since the Cubs left after the spring of 1916.

 


Local interest in bringing a team to the Tampa Bay area first emerged after MLB expanded into Toronto and Seattle in 1977. While attracting major-league teams to the area for the spring was never a problem, luring a team on a permanent basis proved to more problematic. Most of the problems were a result of a lack of cooperation between the Tampa and St. Petersburg city governments. Although it was mutually agreed upon between the two cities that it was in their best interests to bring major-league ball to the area, Tampa and St. Petersburg’s local sports authorities independently courted dissatisfied major league owners while making plans for separate stadiums.

 


In 1984, a group of investors known as the “Tampa Bay Baseball Group” ( led by businessman Frank Morsani ) managed to buy a 42% stake in the Minnesota Twins, hoping to move the team to Tampa. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, acting in what he called “the best interests of baseball,” pressured the group to sell their share to Carl Pohlad, a local banker who intended to keep the team in the Twin Cities. Tampa was foiled again in 1985, when Oakland A’s president Roy Eisenhardt, after agreeing in principle to sell the team to Morsani’s group for $37 million, decided to keep the team after agreed to a new stadium lease with Oakland’s mayor.

 

 


In November 1985, both cities made separate presentations for expansion teams (amidst charges of plagarism ) to Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who was annoyed at the local community civil war. However, the rivalry continued. From 1986 onwards, St. Petersburg appeared to be the destination of choice for the Chicago White Sox, who were unhappy with Comiskey Park. The St. Petersburg group went so far as to break ground on the Florida Suncoast Dome in 1988, ostensibly the new home of the White Sox. Their neighbors across the bay steamed, and the Tampa Tribune opined that that the locale of the new stadium “puts one in mind of a particularly pinched Albanian village.”

 


However, hopes ended in 1988 when Chicago officials managed to pass financing for a new stadium at the last minute by unplugging the Legislative clock to get a resolution passed to keep the team in the South Side of Chicago. Even though the Sox ended up staying in Chicago, the Suncoast Dome was well on its way to being built, effectively ending the long rivalry between the two cities with regards to baseball; it was agreed that any team coming to the area would be housed in the new stadium.

 


However, opportunities evaporated as quickly as they appeared. Morsini’s attempt to buy the Texas Rangers in 1988 was foiled, MLB left the Tampa Bay area out of its expansion plans in favor of Miami in 1991. Then Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan had made a verbal agreement with the Tampa Bay baseball group, but decided to try and keep the team in the city by selling his team instead  to Nintendo in 1992. MLB again rebuffed Tampa Bay in late 1992, when National League owners rejected a agreed upon proposal that would bring the San Francisco Giants to the Suncoast Dome.

 

 


Finally, Tampa Bay was awarded an expansion team on March 9, 1995, ending what new owner Vince Naimoli called “a path of ten thousand steps, ten thousand phone calls, ten thousand frustrations.” Three years before starting play, the team named  former Braves executive Chuck LaMar as their general manager; LaMar, charged with the task of building a team from scratch, decided to build his club around veteran cornerstones. To that end, the team signed future Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs, slugger Paul Sorrento, and  Opening Day pitcher Wilson Alvarez. They then traded for Tampa Bay native Fred McGriff and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Kevin Stocker. The trade for Stocker took the most heat as the team had picked young outfielder Bobby Abreu and then turned around and traded the young star to Philadelphia for the experienced shortstop.

 

 

 Larry Rothschild, who had never before managed a game but has always been a well-regarded major-league pitching coach, was named the team’s first manager.  So here we have a just a short history of the Tampa Bay area and their quest to obtain their MLB franchise. The area sweated long and hard to finally field a team in the local sunshine of Tampa Bay. And within 11 years of their first game, celebrated a playoff berth for the young team.

 


Tampa Bay’s pursuit of  major league baseball was a investment in the past and the future for the region. And the area is finally reaping the benefits of acquiring  a professional team to play in the confines of Tropicana Field.

 

 

Josh Hamilton Is My Hero

 

 

 

                                      

 

 

When the American League 2008 All Stars were officially announced, every one in baseball took notice that Josh Hamilton had finally  come full circle and achieved the dream of his lifetime. The fact that  the event would be a total  180 degree swapping of the horrors and the misguided attempts of Hamilton to finally right the ship and cruise to the ultimate harbor.  There have been numerous human interest stories before in connection with the All Star game, but none would even hit the zenith that Hamilton took us during the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium.

 

 

From just how far Hamilton had to come was not the issue at hand, but how far he had come, and to where he would take us next.  From the day he was selected in 1999 with the First Round overall pick, he has been fighting the demons and the wrath of promise and expectations. When the then Tampa Bay Devilrays took Hamilton, he was considered one of this generations blue-chip, 5-tool players straight out of high school. The sky was the limit then as Hamilton could do just about anything in the outfield and at the plate. 

 

 

He was a highly decorated high school player, twice being named North Carolina Gatorade High School Player of the Year. Following his senior season, he was named High School Player of the Year by Baseball America and Amateur Player of the Year by USA Baseball. Hamilton played outfield and also pitched during his high school career. As a left-handed high school pitcher, Hamilton sometimes hit 96 MPH. He was touted as a rare talent, who was almost equally skilled as a pitcher and a position player (outfield).

 

Dan Jennings,  then a Tampa Bay scout said “He has every tool we look for in a position player.” His high school coach at Athens Drive, John Thomas said “He’s better at this game than anyone else I’ve seen in high school or college.”

 

 

                    

 

 

I remember first seeing Josh at the Namoli Complex in St. Petersburg, Florida. Your first focus was on his strong forearms and his professional demeanor. I know from my work involvement with the Spring Training staff that Hamilton was eager and willing to do anything to show his worth to the team at that stage of his career. On the training field facing SE of the center coaching towers,Josh used to routinely put balls into the players’ parking lot during Batting Practice. It became a running joke that the clubhouse staff used to sit out there and shag balls to keep them from hitting the players’ cars

 


After this successful debut in professional baseball, he spent the 2000 season with the Charleston RiverDogs in the South Atlantic League. Prior to the 2001 season, Hamilton was involved in an accident in his truck coming back from a Spring Training game in Sarasota,Florida. His mother was also injured in the accident, and she went home to North Carolina to be  with her husband to recuperate from her injuries. For the first time in his professional career, Hamilton was on his own, without a parental voice to reel him in when he overindulged or misbehaved off the field.

                                      


The 2001 season was the first time Hamilton began going to the Ybor City section of Tampa with teammates and became involved in the local bar scene and began experimenting with drugs, after a few months he made his first attempt at rehab. Several former Rays players routinely went to the Tampa entertainment zone to let off steam from the days work and enjoy the nightlife. It was at this time that Josh also began his obsession with tattoo’s and the local parlors in Ybor City. Long nights and missed curfews were only the tip of the iceberg for Hamilton, the demons were getting to his soul and he was about to plunge deep into the abyss.

 


Hamilton only played 27 games in the 2001 season, split between Charleston (  Class-A ) and the Orlando Rays ( Class -AA ). Hamilton began the 2002 season with the Bakersfield Blaze ( Class -AA ), batting .303 with 9 home runs and 44 RBI in 56 games before his season came to an end due to lingering back and shoulder injuries. At this time he also began experimenting with pain medication and the effects took a huge part out of his game. He had loss the will to play at the highest level by then, just trying to survive another day on pain medications and other drugs of choice.

 

 

 

 

At the start of the 2003 season, Hamilton started showing up late during the Rays’ Spring Training and was reassigned to the team’s minor league camp as a warning to shape up. Hamilton was not happy about the demotion and left the team and disappeared for several weeks, resurfacing several times, but eventually took the rest of the season off for personal reasons. Hamilton was hoping to return to Spring Training with the Devil Rays in 2004, but he was suspended 30 days and fined for violating the drug policy put in place by MLB.

 

 

Because of the length of his suspension, and the terms of the drug policy, Hamilton must have failed two or more drug tests after being put into the program. A ‘failed’ test is a positive result for a drug more severe than marijuana. Hamilton was known to frequent  local tattoo parlors and clubs where cocaine and other drugs could be found easily and without problems. Alcohol also became a secondary  drug of choice while doing the club scene in Ybor City.

 

 

The  suspension was increased several times after repeated violations of the terms of the program. From 2002 until 2006, Hamilton did not play any baseball at all.  He was starting to hit the downward spiral that would take him into situation he could never imagine in his life. He made several attempts at rehab, and started off the 2005 season with hopes of being reinstated by MLB.  During his time away from baseball, Hamilton had escalated to using heroin and shed almost 35 pounds off his frame from the drug use. One time during a brief stay in a drug house in North Carolina, Hamilton let a known drug dealer use his truck to go get more narcotics for the people in the house, but the drug dealer never returned with his truck or the drugs.


 


Hamilton’s struggles with drugs and alcohol are well documented. He finally got clean after being confronted by his grandmother, Mary Holt. Hamilton says he hasn’t used drugs or alcohol since October 6, 2005. When giving a brief summary of his recovery Hamilton says simply “It’s a God thing.” He does not shy away from telling his story, speaking to community groups and fans at many different functions. He frequently and publicly tells stories of how Christianity has brought him back from the brink and that faith is what keeps him going.

 

 

                                                

 

 

Hamilton finally put down the struggle and the redemption in a book entitled, ” Beyond Belief: Finding The Strength To Come Back”.  The book  details the events that led up to the derailment. Josh explains how a young man destined for fame and wealth could allow his life to be taken over by drugs and alcohol. But it is also the memoir of a spiritual journey that breaks through pain and heartbreak and leads to the rebirth of his major-league career.

Josh Hamilton makes no excuses and places no blame on anyone other than himself. He takes responsibility for his poor decisions and believes his story can help millions who battle the same demons. “I have been given a platform to tell my story” he says. “I pray every night I am a good messenger.”


 

His wife Katie sometimes accompanies him on road games and during personal appearances, offering her perspective on his struggles as well.  To go along with the provisions of MLB’s drug policy, Hamilton provides urine samples for drug testing at least three times per week. Rangers’ coach Jerry Narron says of the frequent testing: “I think he looks forward to the tests. He knows he’s an addict. He knows he has to be accountable. He looks at those tests as a way to reassure people around him who had faith.” Hamilton approaches the plate at Texas Rangers home games to the song “Saved The Day” by Christian group Phillips, Craig & Dean

 

One of the biggest opponents of helping Hamilton get back to the major leagues was Clearwater Baseball Academy owner Ron Silver. After hearing about Hamilton’s desire to return to baseball, Silver offered the use of his facility if Hamilton agreed to work helping area kids and also fine-tuning his swing and follow through after lessons and events.


After several months there, Hamilton attempted to play with an independent minor league team,the Broxton Roxs, but MLB stepped in and disallowed it.  After reviewing his case, and hearing from doctors that being around baseball might speed his recovery, Hamilton was allowed to work out with the Devil Rays minor league players starting on June 2, 2006. Throughout this endeavor, the Rays management let Hamilton know that they would do anything possible to ensure his protection and his health while fighting to get back into shape for baseball and beyond.

 


I remember I had to deliver some Aquafina water and Pepsi products to the Rays Minor League complex the morning Hamilton officially could go back onto the field for the Rays.  Hamilton has no idea of the media circus waiting for him outside when I pulled up to the doors. Sitting outside the doors to the practice fields were almost 10 TV cameras’ and crews waiting for Hamilton to emerge to start his MLB career over again. He was inside talking to Tim M, who runs the complex for the Rays when I first saw him. Hamilton looked bigger and stronger than when he was with the Rays before, and had a aura about him now. As he turned and smiled at me, I saw that he also had a renewed vigor and swagger about him. A positive light that truly would guide him through this endeavor. 

 


Josh had found religion was the key to his core. That by believing in the Lord, he had a co-pilot on his journey this time. That he could trust himself and his faith that things would be right this time. He turned, shook my hand after I told him it was glad to see him back again with a smile on his face again and  he slowly step towards the door. I warned him of the media storm outside the door, and he just smiled and said, ” I have been waiting for this all my life, I am past the hurricane, this is just a sun-soaked rain shower now.”

 By the end of the month, he was allowed to participate in minor league games. He played 15 games with the  short-season Hudson Valley Renegades near the end of the 2006 season. In addition to returning to baseball, Hamilton also served as a cautionary tale for his young teammates with the Renegades. Rick Zolzer, the Renegades’ director of special events said of Hamilton: “”He pointed (the other players) in the right direction. He said, Don’t make the mistakes I made.’ He was so good with all of the young kids.”

 

 

Hamilton was  then selected third overall in the MLB portion of the 2006 Rule 5 Draft by the Chicago Cubs in the off season. The Rays had not placed him on their 40-man roster and left him unprotected to be selected by any of the MLB clubs.  The Rays were hoping that with his sorted past and a career in jeopardy, teams would not select him and he would remain with the Rays while reconstructing his career. The Cubs took a gamble on Hamilton, and he was later traded to the Cincinnati Reds for $100,000 ($50,000 for his rights, and $50,000 to cover the cost of the Rule 5 selection). In their coverage of the draft, Chris Kline and John Manuel of Baseball America called Hamilton “the biggest name in the Rule 5 Draft.”  

              

                                  

                  

 

 

In order to retain the rights to Hamilton, the Reds had to keep him on their Major League 25-man roster for the entire 2007 season. He was one of the Reds’ best hitters in spring training, leaving camp with a .403 batting average. As a result, he won a spot on the Reds’ Opening Day roster; the Reds planned to use him as a fourth outfielder. Hamilton started most of the time in center field after an injury to former-Ray Ryan Freel. He also received starts due to injuries to Chris Denorfia and Norris Hopper.

 

 

Hamilton made his long-awaited Major League debut on April 2 against the Chicago Cubs in a pinch-hit appearance,and received a 22-second standing ovation from the Reds’ faithful. He lined out to left fielder Matt Murton, who made a sliding catch. Hamilton stayed in the game to play left field. As he was waiting to bat, Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said “‘You deserve it, Josh. Take it all in, brother. I’m happy for you.”

 


He made his first start on April 10 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, batting lead off. In that game, he recorded his first Major League hit, a home run off Édgar González. The next night, he hit another. Hamilton was named the National League Rookie of the Month for April. On May 22, the Reds placed Hamilton on the 15-day DL with gastroenteritis; they activated him on June 5 after he batted .333 (8-for-24) with four home runs and six RBI in a six-game Minor League rehabilitation assignment. Hamilton went back on the DL on July 12 with a sprained wrist.

 


Among all NL rookies, Hamilton placed second behind the  Brewers’ Ryan Braun in slugging percentage (.554), and fourth in home runs (19); behind Braun, Arizona’s Chris Young, and the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki. He was shut out in the voting for the Rookie of the Year, which was won by Braun.

 


On December 21, 2007, the Reds traded Hamilton to the Texas Rangers for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera.

 

 

 

 

 In 2008, Hamilton locked up the Rangers starting center fielder job with a stellar spring training in which he batted .556 and drove in 13 RBIs in 14 games. His spring training performance proceeded to follow into the regular season. Hamilton, usually slotted third in the Texas batting order, appears to be finally fulfilling his great potential. Hamilton led all Major League players in RBI for the month of April. He was named American League Player of the Month after hitting .330 with 32 RBI during the month. Hamilton then went on to win player of the month for the second straight month in May, becoming the first American League player in baseball history to be awarded Player of the Month for the first two months of the season.

 

 

Hamilton was featured on the cover of the June 2, 2008 issue of Sports Illustrated, in a story chronicling his comeback. On July 9, 2008 Josh Hamilton hit the first walk-off home run of his career against Angels’ closer, Francisco Rodriguez. Fans selected Hamilton as one of the starting outfielders for the American League at the 2008 MLB All Star Game at Yankee Stadium. He finished first in voting among the outfielders to clinch his spot. He will be one of seven first-time starters in the game.

 


Along with Kosuke Fukudome, Geovany Soto,Ryan Braun,and the Rays’ Evan Longoria, he will be one of four who made their MLB debut 2007 or 2008. He was selected to participate in the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby the evening before the game. Hamilton selected 71-year old Clay Counsil to throw to him during the Derby. Counsil was a  local volunteer who threw batting practice for him as an American Legion player  in Cary, NC. Counsil threw picture perfect pitches for Hamilton to hit that night in Yankee Stadium. At one point it was rumored he had thrown over 90 pitches before Josh had finished his First Round.

 

 

                     

 

 

In the first round of the event Hamilton hit 28 home runs, to break the single round record of 24 set by Bobby Abreu in 2005. Several of those homers were to the only place in Yankee Stadium where a ball could be hit out of the complex, deep right center field next to the upper decks. Hamilton, who had 28 homers after the first round, came out and took only a small amount of pitches to extend his total to 32, before retiring for the final round. Hamilton ended up hitting the most total home runs in the contest with 35, but lost in the final round to Justin Morneau, as the scores were reset. His record setting first round included 13 straight home runs at one point, and three that went further than 500 feet. His longest home run was 518 feet.

 


In 2006, when Hamilton was trying to get back into baseball, he had a dream where he participated in a Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium, but he could not remember how many home runs he had hit. After the Derby Hamilton said: “This, was like living the dream out, because like I’ve said, I didn’t know the ending to that dream.” The next night, Josh started in center field for the American League, and went 1-3 on the night and was greeted by a huge cheer from the mostly Yankee crowd on his first at-bat.

 


Hamilton has been an inspiration to both young and old to rise to this level of achievement in such a short frame of time. The season is still young, and Hamilton is currently leading Major League Baseball in RBI’s with 95. He is currently hitting .310 for the year and is ranked 18th in the MLB, and 9th in the AL. Hamilton also has 21 homers at the break to rank 12th in the MLB and 3rd in the AL, two behind the leader.

 

 

                                  

 


Hamilton has a chance to made a bid for the Triple Crown this season. He was also touted as a early favorite for the AL MVP award. But in the end, the only category that Hamilton lead in the American League was the RBI crown with 130 RBI’s on the year. He ended up with a .304 batting average, good enough for 11th in the Al. He also ended up hitting 32 home runs to tie for 8th in the AL in that category. Some say the pressure of carrying the Rangers and the long season put Hamilton behind the 8-ball early in the second half of the season.

 



In the AL MVP race, he ended up coming in 7th place, and was the last participant to top 100 points in the race, he ended up with 113 points in the MVP voting.

 


We have a lot of great baseball to play, and Josh still has some unfinished business to attend to in the upcoming seasons. He has so much promise in 1999 when he signed with the Rays, and so much time was lost and will never be retained again. But with determination and a will to succeed, we all will see Hamilton rise from the ashes and become the man and player we always knew he would be in baseball.

 


We should all be grateful this fantastic athlete found the courage and commitment to  raise himself above life’s struggles and tragedies. He is a perfect example of mind over matter, and that the power of your own will can defeat any and all demons if you just believe.   And with that, I think I will hit the TIVO again and watch the State Farm Home Run Derby all over again tonight.

 

   

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