Texas Ranger Crushed Addiction and Broke Home Run Record

Former substance abuser crushes his addiction and breaks a home run record.

February 18, 2009, 11:33 AM

July 15, 2008— -- At Major League Baseball's All-Star Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium on Monday, Josh Hamilton dazzled the crowd.

His first hit was a bomb into the bleachers. But he was just getting started. Over the next 20 minutes, Hamilton, a center fielder for the Texas Rangers, hit 13 home runs in a row, totaling a record 28 in the first round alone.

Although he did not end up winning the competition -- that honor went to Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau -- Hamilton broke Bobby Abreu's 2005 record for 24 home runs in the Derby's first round.

But more amazing than the power of his bat are the depths to which Hamilton fell.

Hamilton was a star high school athlete from Raleigh, N.C., who was described as the next Mickey Mantle -- a "can't miss."

In his youth, Hamilton was named North Carolina's Gatorade High School Player of the Year twice, and honored for qualities, such as compassion and sportsmanship. When he entered the major league draft in 1999, he was dubbed a five-tool player, excelling in all areas of the game.

"I mean, here is a kid that would hit the ball three times out of the park, help clean the dugout and kiss his grandma before he left the field," said Steve Reed, Hamilton's financial advisor.

In 1999, Hamilton was the top overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft. He signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, receiving a $3.96 million signing bonus, and joining the team with what appeared to be the brightest future. His character, talent and values were unparalleled in a pro athlete.

However, Hamilton's growing addiction to alcohol, drugs and, eventually, crack, took its toll on his talent and life.

"It really grabbed a hold of me, as far as the drugs taking over," Hamilton said.

He failed several drug tests, went missing, blew most of his money, and was suspended by Major League Baseball officials twice. After eight failed attempts at rehab, Hamilton thought he was going to die.

After Hamilton bottomed out, his friends and family stepped in.

"After one of his epic crack binges, he showed up at his grandmother's doorstep at 2 a.m.," Tim Keown, senior writer at ESPN the Magazine, who also wrote Josh Hamilton's biography, told ABC News. "She said, eventually, to him, 'I'm tired of seeing you kill yourself.'"

Hamilton finally got clean with help from his grandmother and the constant support of his wife. Two years ago, Major League Baseball re-instated him.

"I stand on the green grass of major league outfield or batter's box with people cheering for me ... and ask myself ... 'How did I get here from there?'" Hamilton said.

Adhering to MLB drug procedures, officials continue to monitor Hamilton's sobriety with tri-weekly urine testing.

But Hamilton has been able to return to the game he loves and has stayed sober since 2005, which made even his home run derby competitor Morneau admit that he joined the crowd and rooted for Hamilton to win.

No one will remember that Josh Hamilton didn't win the 2008 Home Run Derby. Thousands of New Yorkers chanted his name. In "The House That Ruth Built," Josh Hamilton brought thousands of fans to their feet by fighting so hard to get back on his.

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