May 9, 2012 -- Josh Hamilton, the baseball star known for his epic exploits on the field – and his monumental struggles to stay sober off of it – etched his name in the record books with a performance for the ages.
Hamilton became just the 16th person in major league baseball history to smash four home runs in a game as he powered the Texas Rangers to a 10-3 victory over the Orioles in Baltimore on Tuesday night.
"Amazing," said Texas manager Ron Washington. "History was witnessed tonight."
Hamilton's struggles with alcohol and crack cocaine addiction are as legendary as his baseball abilities.
He was drafted in the first round by Tampa Bay in 1999, only to end up out of baseball altogether, banned from the game as a minor leaguer in 2003 because of repeated violations of its substance abuse policy.
Over the next three years he binged on alcohol and cocaine, and did not play an inning of organized baseball.
"With what I was going through, I wasn't thinking about anything but using," he once told the Washington Post. "I'd go three or four days without sleeping, and then just pass out and hope I didn't die."
After vowing to get clean, Hamilton was reinstated by baseball in 2006 -- but even today he openly acknowledges, "My recovery is an every day process."
He regularly submits to drug testing and travels with a minder to make sure he stays on the straight and narrow. To avoid assorted temptations, he rarely carries more than $10 in his wallet, and never more than $20. The Rangers do their part, drinking ginger ale during celebrations instead of champagne out of respect for Hamilton's addiction.
Still, he has suffered two relapses, the most recent one in February, when he admitting having three or four drinks at a Texas restaurant in a "weak moment."
That tangled past clearly was on Hamilton's mind after the game Tuesday night.
"I think about what God's done in my life, everything I did to mess it up," he said.
"To finally surrender everything and pursue that relationship with Christ on a daily basis and understanding when I don't pursue it, I end up messing up. Understanding that what I'm doing and what God's allowed me to do, coming back from everything I went through and allowing me to play the game at the level I play it, it's pretty amazing to think about."
Hamilton also was involved in a tragedy at the Rangers' ballpark last year, tossing a ball into the stands, where a fan reached for it and tumbled over a railing, falling 20 feet head first to his death onto concrete below.
Hamilton was the American League MVP in 2010, and has won the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game.
But this season, he is off to his best start yet, leading the major leagues in batting average (.406), home runs (14), RBIs (36) and slugging percentage (.840).
The timing for Hamilton could not be better. His contract, which will pay him $15.25 million this year, is up after this season. Any team will have to weigh his value as a player against the risks he might suffer a relapse. There are reports that Texas wants to ink him to a long-term deal.
Based on Hamilton's performance this year, the cost to signing him keeps increasing.
In addition to his four homers on Tuesday night, Hamilton also hit a double, setting the American League record for most total bases (18) in one game.
"It reminds you of when you're in Little League and a little kid, and just the excitement and why we play the game," Hamilton said after his historic night."Things like that. You never know what can happen. It was just an absolute blessing."