“I have a bigger purpose to serve than just baseball. The main focus is to spread the Word of God.”
By now most causal sports fans have heard of Josh Hamilton. His story is well documented and highlighted in interviews countless times over the past few years. There’s even an autobiography titled, “Beyond Belief,” aviable in bookstores that gives an in-depth look at what you’re about to read. His story is the modern-day prodigal son parable. Josh was a man who had it all: amazing God-given talent, loving parents, fame, and wealth. Then it all came crashing down in front of him and that’s where his incredible redemption story begins. It’s a story so incredible that it’s going to be put to film. It already has impacted countless lives and he’s been an inspiration to those who struggle with drug and alcohol use. This is one story that’s worth telling because it’s proof that no one is beyond the grace of God.
Setting the Stage:
Josh Holt Hamilton was born on May 21, 1981 in Raleigh, North Carolina to Linda and Tony. Both his parents were excellent athletes; Tony a baseball and football star in high school and Linda a top amateur softball player. Josh was the younger brother of two; with Jason being the oldest. From early on, Josh’s life was focused on becoming a top baseball draft pick and making the big leagues. He had immense support from his family and friends to follow his dream.
His parents were always there to help his along the way, as his dad threw endless batting practice to him and his mom shagged his fly balls. His older brother had set all kinds of records at Athens Drive High School, but Josh would go on to break nearly every single one. It wasn’t long until scouts started giving him gaudy comparisons to big league sluggers such as Paul O’Neil, a Yankees stand-out All-Star. Josh was a rare five tool player: he possessed speed, power, average, defense, and a great arm. He played center field and pitched during his junior year. His fastball reached a blazing 96 on the radar. This earned him the nickname, “Hammer.”
As a senior, he was often pitched around because pitchers were terrified of him. He still managed to hit .529 with 13 homers and 20 steals. On the mound he had 91 K’s in just 56 innings. He made the North Carolina Player of the Year two years in a row and was on the cover of Baseball America while in high school. As far as anyone could see Josh had it made: he was a guaranteed Top 5 pick, had a squeaky-clean image, and a large support group of family and friends. What could possibly go wrong in drafting him?
For the first pick of the 1999 draft, Josh Hamilton was chosen by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. At that time, he signed the largest signing bonus ever at a whopping $3.96 million dollars. Most were projecting him to be a future Hall-of-Fame type player. Josh soon after joined the Princeton Pirates of the Appalachian League in Rookie ball. He tore up the league hitting ten homers and hitting .347 in a small number of games. Josh’s parents were there for every single one of his games both quitting their jobs to see him play. They even cooked his meals and his father talked with him after every game to give him advice.
It was in the year, 2000, that the wheels began to come off and his fall of grace began. He opened the year with the Charleston River Dogs and hit .302 with 13 homers and 61 RBIs at the All-Star Break. He made the league’s All-Star Game and was named the top player in the game. Shortly after the last day of July, Josh tore his lateral meniscus ending his season. It was just the beginning of his downward spiral.
In 2001, he and his parents were involved in a car accident. Josh suffered back injuries and his mother was hurt badly. His parents returned home to get medical treatment. Josh tried playing for Class AA in Orlando but he couldn’t get comfortable. He went back on the Disabled List and for the first time in his life, he was alone. With all the spare time and money, Josh was bored and needed something to consume his time. Within a few weeks, Josh fell into he habit of hanging out with a group at a tattoo shop in Bradenton, Florida. It wasn’t long until he was covered with tattoos with signs and images that he didn’t understand.
Then he tried alcohol for the first time in his life just to experiment. Drugs soon followed after. With one bad decision after another, it became a little easier to fall into this lifestyle of sin. The details are incredibly sobering–he would go on to spend eight trips to treatment and rehab centers, wasted $100,000 on drugs in just six weeks, wore a wire for the Drug Enforcement Administration, and blacked out on several occasions at a trailer park with shady characters. He would return to baseball in 2002, but injuries plagued his season. He was suspended in 2003 for drug use and after the season completely gave up on baseball.
In 2004, he met his future wife, Katie, out of a rehab group. Their relationship quickly blossomed and they married in the winter of 2004. Josh’s parents gave him $200,000 to buy a house, but Josh took the leftover money and blew it on drugs. They had their first child, a girl named Sierra, in September of 2005. Once again Josh fell into drugs and this time was kicked out of his house. He moved into his grandmother’s house and vowed to give up drugs and alcohol. At this point, baseball was a distant memory and everything he had loved was gone. His journey had taken him rock bottom to despair, loneliness, guilt, and shame.
Over the next few weeks he once again started using drugs at his grandmother’s house. Josh recounts the day he finally turned to Christ:
“She confronted me one night when I came out of the back bedroom, because she knew something wasn’t right.” She told me the things I had heard so many times: ‘You’re killing yourself, you’re killing us by making us worry, you’re a better person than this, you can do great things’ – all these things I had heard from different people. God really opened my heart and cleared my head and allowed me to hear Him for the first time. “To see the pain and tears on her face, that’s the moment I went back into the bedroom, grabbed the Bible I had hidden at the bottom of my clothes in the back of the closet and closed the door. … At that moment, I re-committed my life to Christ and started moving forward.”
The verse that he found when he opened his Bible was this: “Humble yourself before God, resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) He recounts his dream in which he battled the devil in this short video clip that gives a brief summary of his journey:
In early 2006, Josh began to turn his life around. He worked at a spring training complex cleaning the restrooms and taking care of the field. He was dead broke so he had to sleep on an air mattress in an unused office. He trained in his spare time and tossed batting practice throwing at a blazing 95 miles an hour. He then returned to the minor leagues under the Rays playing 15 games. Shortly after, he was placed on waivers and no one picked him up. The next spring in a series of moves, Josh ended up on the Cincinnati Reds trying out for the big league team. The Reds found a companion for him, Jerry Narron, to help him stay out of trouble and keep him accountable. Josh made the team and on his first big league at bat he got a long-standing ovation from the crowd. His season had many ups and downs as he hit close to .300 with 19 homers. Then another injury came at the close of the year and many wondered if he would relapse back to his old ways. Thanks to Narron, Josh was able to stay clean as they played video games and watched movies together.
The next year, 2008, the Texas Rangers made a bold trade to get Josh by trading two of their top pitching prospects, Volquez and Herrea. One month into the season, Josh was “destroying” the American League with a .330 clip, 6 homers, and 32 RBIs. His success continued through the following months as he had a whopping 95 RBIs by the All-Star Break. He was chosen to start in the All-Star Game and participated in the Home run Derby. He hit a whopping 28 homers in the first round at Yankee Stadium and credited it all to Jesus Christ as he was interviewed. It fulfilled his dream he had about being at Yankee Stadium telling everyone about the gospel of Christ. He slowed down quite a bit by the end of the year, but still managed gaudy numbers of 130 RBIs, .304 average, and 190 hits.
Then Josh proved to be mortal again and had a slight relapse in early 2009. He was seen at a bar in Tempe, Arizona with several women. He was seen drinking as well. Hamilton informed his wife, his team, and Major League Baseball the day after it happened. He’s his testimony of what happened:
“Obviously it was one those things that reinforce that I can’t have alcohol. I got away from the one thing that kept me on the straight and narrow and that was my relationship with the Lord. That should always come first. Hopefully some good will come out of this. It just crossed my mind that night, ‘Can I have a drink?’ Obviously I can’t and this reinforces that. Since that night, I have not had another thought like that. I know it’s something I shouldn’t do because it leads to other things.”
Josh apologized to everyone when the news broke during the 2009 season and said he passed his drug test that was taken two days after the incident. During that season, he once again battled injuries all year with bruised ribs and an abdominal tear in those ribs. He only played in half of the games with very modest stats of a .268 average, 10 homers, and 54 RBIs.
Heading into this season(2010), the Rangers got to a slow star then caught fire taking hold of first place in the AL West and never letting go. Josh remained healthy until the final month of the season putting up MVP numbers of .359, 32 homers, and 100 RBIs. His .359 average was the best of all players in Major League Baseball.
Hamilton vowed to play in the playoffs despite a broken rib he suffered in early September. In his first postseason series he got just 2 hits and 1 RBI. Despite his lack of production, the Rangers went on to beat the Rays, his former team, in 5 games. In the ALCS, Josh caught fire hitting four homers and collecting 7 RBIs. The Rangers would go on to win their first AL pennant and Josh was named ALCS MVP. He was interviewed in front of the entire stadium and everyone viewing the game, crediting all the glory to Jesus Christ. In the World Series the Rangers ran into a hot pitching club, the San Francisco Giants, and were no match against them. Josh and his teammates struggled at the plate, losing the series in just 5 games.
On February 10, 2011, Josh avoided arbitration and signed a two-year deal worth $24 million dollars. The 2011 season was certainly a roller coaster type season of many ups and downs. At the very start of the season, on April 12, he suffered a fracture to his right humerus on a play at home plate. Josh would go on to miss over a month of the season. On July 7, during a home game at Rangers Ballpark a fan, Shannon Stone, leaned over the railing to catch a ball tossed by Hamilton and fell 20 feet behind the scoreboard. Within a few hours he was pronounced dead. This shook up the Rangers community and Josh for several months. During the first game of the postseason, the son of Shannon Stone, threw out the first pitch to Josh. The family would exchange multiple hugs with Josh and the Texas Rangers players. For the season, Hamilton would go on to bat .298 with 25 homers–a subpar season for him filled with injuries.
His injuries would continue to plague him as his team progressed through the playoffs. They would go on to beat the Tampa Bay Rays and Detroit Tigers to reach their 2nd straight World Series. Up three games to two, and one strike away from a World Series Championship against the St. Louis Cardinals, the team blew a 2-run lead in the 9th. In the top of the 10th it appeared like the final piece of Hamilton’s redemption story was written when he slammed a 2-run homer to put the Rangers up going into the bottom of the 10th inning. But once again in heartbreaking fashion, the Rangers blew the lead needing only one strike to win the championship. That proved to be the final blow as the team would go on to lose the game and the series in seven games–leaving Josh and the team devastated.
Early in 2012, Josh suffered his second slip with alcohol. Although the incident wasn’t as severe as the first, he claimed to have 2 or 3 drinks with his friend and teammate, Ian Kinsler, at a local bar. He held a press conference and apologized for his actions. This season (2012) Hamilton got off to a blazing hot start with a .395 average, 9 homers, and 25 RBI in the month of April. On May 8, 2012, he has one of the most historic performances in Major League Baseball history going 5-5 with four homers, a double, and 8 RBI! He became only the 16th player ever to hit four homers in one game. For the fifth straight year, Josh was named to the All-Star Game and accumulated the most number of fan votes in the history of the All-Star game selection process. But over the past few months with Josh’s free agency looming and his fans losing patience with his poor production–things have turned south. He’s batting less than .200 since June 1st and just this past Monday (July 30th) recorded his first game of more than 2 hits since May 11. The Rangers are currently in 1st place in the American West and looking to reach their 3rd straight World Series.
Josh’s baseball career and life has been filled with extreme ups and downs. Of turmoil, trials, and triumphs. It was announced just recently that movie producer Casey Affleck has the rights to create a movie based on Josh’s incredible redemption story. His story continues to keep getting better and his life holds a script that Hollywood would never have dreamed up writing–it’s beyond belief! It’s a story only God could write, proving that our God uses every one of our mistakes for His glory! Josh Hamilton is the modern-day version of the prodigal son–he had everything, lost everything, and then found grace! Not because of who he was but because of how awesome our God is!
Josh already has had a profound impact on baseball fans, drug addicts, alcoholics, and those in need of hope across the world. He is very friendly and generous before each baseball game he plays, signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. On occasion he speaks to groups about his usage of drugs and alcohol getting to share his faith in Jesus Christ. Hamilton begins each plate appearance now with the song, “Until the Whole World Hears” by Casting Crowns, indicating his dream to reach the entire world about his testimony and testifying his faith in Christ. He and his wife, Katie, founded Triple Play Ministries after 2007, a community outreach program that helps others overcome obstacles and also that they may come to know Christ. They have built an orphanage in Uganda and given funds for relief in Haiti through this ministry. Finally, in 2008 Josh wrote an autobiography on his incredible story titled, “Beyond Belief” that is sure to reach many people in the years to come. I highly recommend reading this book, it is one of the best biographies you’ll ever read!
Lessons from His Legacy:
At the mere age of 31, Josh has quite a story to tell and many critical and important lessons to grasp. First, NO ONE is beyond the grace of God. Josh turned his back on his faith, family, and friends, making a truly astounding amount of life-threatening mistakes over and over again. But God found Josh right where he was and accepted him back into His arms. May this be a reminder of the amazing grace that is found in the one true God-Jesus Christ! Also we can take away the important lesson of accountability. When Josh was alone without his family and friends–he fell into a lifestyle of sin. Satan can tempt us much easier when we’re bored and by ourselves, in contrast to having a strong group of supportive believers. Another very critical lesson that can be seen in Josh’s story is that we are all still vulnerable to old habits and our sinful ways. Just because we’re saved and a child of God doesn’t make us invulnerable to sin. Stay away from places, situations, and people who lead you into those sinful habits and instead turn to God. Also our sin has many consequences that carry weight throughout the rest of our lives. Josh’s relapses with alcohol and countless tattoos attest to this fact. Finally, God uses every part of our lives for a reason. Despite all of Josh’s painful memories of falling away from His faith; God is now using his story to impact millions around the world. All of your mistakes, hard lessons, and bad choices can also be used to help others who are in a similar situation. God never wastes a single hurt or pain. Josh Hamilton is the modern day’s version of the “Natural” only his story isn’t exaggerated or made-up–it’s true! His story is far from over, but when his work is done here on here, it’ll be a story worth telling over and over again! God’s grace has no bounds, it’s as far as the east is from the west reaching from the lowest of valleys, to the highest of the heavens–our God is an awesome God!