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Hamilton making most of new lease

Former No. 1 draft pick recovers from battle with drugs

By Evan Grant

The Dallas Morning News

ARLINGTON, Texas — The demons have been replaced by autograph seekers and talk-show hosts.

At least the demons only chased Josh Hamilton in his sleep. This new batch? They’re everywhere he goes.

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That would appear to be the downside of the Josh Hamilton story. If you have a story worth telling, then everybody wants to meet you and hear the tale. And this one is definitely worth telling.

Major League Baseball’s No. 1 draft pick in 1999 nearly ruined his life with drugs and alcohol before finding faith and family. He ultimately reached the 2008 All-Star Game at age 27 — at famed Yankee Stadium, no less.

The first-year Rangers outfielder leads the majors in runs batted in and also has been among the American League leaders in home runs and batting average. Those achievements, and his unlikely return to baseball last season after his addiction battle kept him out of the game for three years, resulted in fans choosing Hamilton for the American League’s starting lineup in Tuesday night’s game. He collected the most votes among AL outfielders.

In the month leading to Hamilton’s election and the days before his trip to New York for the All-Star Game, he has been a man under siege. The autograph seekers have been omnipresent: outside the hotels and ballparks and in whichever direction he’s headed.

Interview requests have piled up. Sports Illustrated put him on its cover a month ago. D Magazine recently finished a cover shoot. Dan Patrick. Mike & Mike. Fox Sports. You name ’em; if they have a microphone, they want him.

It’s the kind of schedule that could imperil something as delicate as Hamilton’s daily battle for sobriety, which includes regular drug testing by MLB. At the very least, it could take a toll on his performance.

But Hamilton, traded to the Rangers last winter by Cincinnati, recently said he hasn’t felt the strong pangs for a drink or a hit off the crack pipe for several months.

"He’s stronger now, mentally, physically and spiritually, since I’ve known him," Hamilton’s father-in-law, Michael Dean "Big Daddy" Chadwick, said by phone from North Carolina. "He’s in a very good place. I think he’s got the approach that this 1/8publicity 3/8 is all a big deal, but it’s not that big a deal."

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Which might explain Hamilton’s comment to teammate Ian Kinsler on the road a few weeks ago, when the Rangers arrived dog-tired at their hotel and most players trudged straight off to bed. Hamilton stopped to sign every autograph for every fan waiting.

"I said, ’Hambone, you can’t do that every night,"’ said Kinsler, the team’s second baseman and another of the Rangers’ four All-Stars (along with shortstop Michael Young and outfielder Milton Bradley) . "And he just started quoting Wedding Crashers: ’People helping people is a beautiful thing.’ He’s definitely here for a reason. Only God knows that reason, and he’s let God take control of his life."

Seated at his locker one day last week, Hamilton said, "God doesn’t give me anything I can’t handle."

Hamilton said he looks forward to the All-Star onslaught because it will be the biggest stage that he has ever had to tell his story of drug abuse, his discovery of faith and his comeback.

He said he dreamed about being in Monday night’s Home Run Derby just for the interview afterward. His story will certainly be the central focus.

His fatigue can wait. He’ll get a chance to spend Wednesday and Thursday nights in his own bed in his new house in Raleigh, N.C.

The next step in his career will be dealing with the fatigue. After playing 90 games for the Reds last season, Hamilton made adjustments to his workout regimen to allow him to work more efficiently. This season, he has had to learn how to make adjustments at the plate. Now comes learning to adjust to all of the time demands that come with the latest chapter of his story, which has evolved from simply a moving comeback to full-scale superstardom.

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