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Beyond Grateful

Aug 16 2019
Photo by
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Photo by
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Josh Hamilton
Texas Rangers
Aug 16 2019
I

’m not really the most outspoken person.

I tend to keep to myself. I’m not a big social media guy. I stay pretty private.

But when I got that phone call and found out that I was going to be inducted into the Texas Rangers Baseball Hall of Fame — alongside legends like Nolan Ryan, Ruben Sierra, Pudge Rodriguez, Michael Young and so many other all-time greats — something happened that I wasn’t expecting.

My immediate reaction was pure gratitude — just a massive amount of gratitude and appreciation. But then, from there, all these memories and stories from my career began springing to mind. All the things that have made this organization so special to me, and all the love and support I’ve been shown over the years … that all just came flooding back.

And I felt like maybe this would be as good a time as ever to share some of that stuff. Because the memories I hold dear, and all the ways this organization has impacted my life — that stuff really does mean the world to me.

Heck, even the story of how I ended up in Texas is one for the books. And it says so much about what type of franchise this is.

I’d just finished up a decent season with the Reds in 2007, after having been pretty much out of baseball for four years. I had worked through substance abuse issues, gotten myself into shape, and put up some numbers in Cincy that showed I could still play this game. But I knew I remained a work in progress. It was still a day-by-day kind of deal.

And I remember that offseason I decided to do some public speaking, so that I could share my story and hopefully help out some others who were struggling with their own demons.

So as that’s happening, right around the holidays, I get a call from someone with the Reds letting me know that I’d been traded. Within minutes, Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels rings me up.

Welcome to the Texas Rangers, man!

Cal Sport Media via AP Images

From the very first words he spoke, Jon’s just so energetic and welcoming and excited to have me join the team.

And, even though I am kind of shocked by it all at the time, the more I’m listening to him talk, the more it’s making me feel just … really, really good.

It was like….

I’m wanted!

You know what I mean?

Someone actually believes in me and wants me to be a big part of his team.

It had my heart feeling so full to know that even after all I’d been through, and all the mistakes I’d made … someone was excited to have me around.

So I hang up the phone, and I’m just totally jacked up about becoming a Ranger. (And also, I won’t lie, about getting to do a ton of hunting down in Texas.) I’m just ready to go, man.

Then later I come to find out something that made the whole thing even that much more special.

It turns out that, prior to the trade, Jon had decided to take some really focused time to learn about the type of person I was. He actually sent some members of his staff to hear me speak at those churches and the little rec centers where I was giving my talks during the off-season.

He wanted to find out about what I was really like, away from the field, beyond the news reports — where my head was at, and what was in my heart. He wanted to know Josh Hamilton the person.

Not the player, you know what I mean? The person.

He wanted to know Josh Hamilton the person.

I had no clue at the time that this was going on. So unbeknownst to me, when I was up there talking about my struggles with drugs and alcohol, and my faith, and just sharing my story … I was actually, in a way, auditioning for what turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life.

I was basically trying out to become a Texas Ranger.

And looking back on it, I am just so grateful that Jon decided to take that chance on me — to put his faith in the person I was, and the player I could become.

Beyond grateful, really.

Because even though I didn’t know it at the time….

Texas has always been my destiny.


So, yeah, let me just say it. Just to put it out there and state it for the record….

I was meant to be in Texas.

I was born to play ball for the Texas Rangers.

That’s a fact. I believe that with all my heart.

And after the Rangers brought me on in 2008, from there … I was fortunate to be part of something truly incredible for the next five seasons.

That first year, right out the gate, I joined a team with Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Marlon Byrd and so many other great leaders. And to their immense credit, those guys welcomed me in and allowed me to be a leader too, even though it was only my second year in the bigs.

We turned out to be an O.K. team that season. We could hit a ton, but we ended up missing the playoffs. So the one thing everyone always brings up about that year, of course, is the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium, and the 28 first-round jacks I hit.

The memories that I have of that night, though? They aren’t even really mainly about me.

They’re about all the other people who made it so special.

Greg Nelson/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

We had a bunch of All-Stars that year. And if you go back and look at the old Derby videos — even before I start hitting, Kinsler, he comes over to me and is like, “Hey, man … see that Bank of America sign way back there, up on the back wall?”

I kind of nod to him.

“See if you can hit that thing.”

So I’m like, “Uh, O.K.,” not giving it much thought.

Then — I think it was my second home run?

I go and hit that dang Bank of America sign.

No sweat.

Immediately Kinsler comes running up and hugs me.

And, for real, I’m telling you — I still to this day remember that hug. It felt so great.

After that, I tipped my hat cap back toward the home plate area, where my mom and dad were sitting, just to give them a little nod. It was like, Hey, I appreciate you guys. We’ve been through a lot. I love you for the support you’ve shown me my entire life — and I’m so glad you’re here to see this happen.

Then I stepped back in the box and hit 26 more dingers.

And what made that night all the more special is that I had my Legion ball coach from back home, Clay Council, pitching to me. On the plane ride home, Clay — that son of a gun — he turns to me and is like, “I gotta admit something.”

So I’m looking at him, just like, Yeah, O.K.?

He kind of gives me this little grin and is like, “I get really bad anxiety in front of crowds.”

What?!?!? Now you tell me???!

Still to this day, I shake my head and laugh. I picture Clay and I in the tunnel before the Derby, praying. And it reminds me again, the impact God can have in or at any moment in our lives. I was just proud to have represented God and the Texas Rangers in Yankee Stadium that night, in the most Texas way I could think of….

By hitting bomb after bomb, each one farther than the last.

Scott Rovak/USA TODAY Sports

We were a fun team in ’08, but we never were able to really fully put it together — and we weren’t about to. You could tell that the fans kind of knew it, too. When Friday nights would come around during the school year, there wouldn’t be all that many people at the ballpark.

And, of course, this was Texas. Friday night football. I got it. I understood.

But by 2010, man, all that would change. When it was a Friday night at the yard … it’d a packed house, just like every other night. And the really cool thing was that nobody would leave the stadium until the very end. If we were down by two or three runs in the ninth, there’d be just as many people there as at the beginning of the game.

Rangers fans were all in by that point — and they let you know it.

They were loud.

We fed off that energy, and in some cases I feel like we actually took cues from the fans. We started to believe that we could come back from any deficit — that no lead was safe against the Rangers. And that was pretty much the truth.

It’s impossible to list all the amazing moments those Rangers teams created … but beating the Yankees in 2010, clinching with Game 6, in Arlington, to go to the World Series for the first time in franchise history — that’s something I’ll never forget. And then, that following year, the World Series we had with St. Louis? I mean … you could make a dang movie about those games, with all the twists and turns and ups and downs.

Elsa/Getty Images

But, man, Game 6.

Game 6, up in St. Louis … we almost had it. We really, really did.

I remember up to that point, I hadn’t done much in the Series with my bat. But then — baseball being baseball — we’re in that deciding game, and suddenly I’m in the on-deck circle, in extra innings, and I’m telling you, out of nowhere….

I hear the Holy Spirit talking to me.

This is the honest truth.

For real.

I’m standing there, getting ready to bat, and I hear it clear as day.

“You’re about to hit a homer right now, son.”

And I’m like, Huh … O.K.

“You’re about to hit a homer right now, son.”

Then I take a couple more hacks in the on-deck circle. A few moments later, I walk up to the plate. Step into the box. And the very first pitch I see–

BLAMMO.

Home run.

Two run lead for the Rangers.

Are you kidding me?


Now, sure, we weren’t able to hold on to that lead. And we didn’t end up winning the Series. But that home run to put us in position to be champs is probably the one moment I’ll remember most about my time with the Rangers.

I say probably because there are just so many great memories when it comes to me and the Texas Rangers.

And a lot of them aren’t even from games. I’ve been thinking about that fact a ton over the past few months, to be honest. When someone tells you that you’re going to be inducted into their Hall of Fame, you can’t help but think about your legacy, about how you’re going to be remembered.

And with me, that legacy is maybe a bit more layered and complicated than it is with some players.

Of course I’d love for people to remember me as a guy who could really swing it and drive in runs and play great defense. But at the same time, you know what … I also really hope that an even bigger part of the legacy I left with the Rangers has to do with the interactions I had with people while playing this game.

I hope that there are thousands of people all over Texas who will always have a cool memory of talking with Josh Hamilton — just Josh, the person, you know what I mean? Or that something about my story — the good, the bad, whatever it may be — resonated for them and maybe helped them get through some tough times of their own. I hope I’ll be remembered as someone who really believed that it was important to treat people well, and listen to their stories, and look them in the eye and tell them that they matter — let them know that whatever they’re going through, they can overcome it.

That’s something that has always been central to who I am, and it’s something that I’ve realized means even more to me now that I’ve left the game.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Anytime I leave my ranch and head into town, or if I’m traveling, people will come up to me and just basically want to talk. And it’s funny — it’s almost never about some moon shot they saw me hit, or even about those back-to-back World Series runs. It’s usually just about….

Life.

Sometimes it’s just a few words. Other times, I’ll talk with someone for half an hour. But I gotta tell you … that stuff never gets old for me. And I don’t think it ever will. I’m always appreciative.

And I really believe that those connections, those bonds, they exist to this day because I always made it a point to be real with people. I was never someone who was going to try and put one over on you, or who was looking to cover up or hide my struggles.

It was never like, Hey, it’s all good. I’m fixed. Everything’s great.

Throughout my whole career, there was this continual process of going through things and struggling, but at the same time never hiding from the fact that I made my mistakes. And I hope I’m remembered for that process — for never shying away from my problems and struggles.

I was honest with the team and with the fans, because I thought I owed that to them, no matter what. And, who knows, maybe in some cases I was a little too honest, or said too much. But at the end of the day, I hope that people saw me as just … a real person, a human being, with his struggles and his challenges like everyone else. I wasn’t trying to pretend that I was Superman, or like I was above anybody and could do no wrong. I was just trying to do the best I could and to be honest about what I was going through.

When I meet people out and about, that’s the No. 1 thing they talk about.

They tell me that stuff really and truly mattered to them.

I was just trying to do the best I could and to be honest about what I was going through.

But it’s really important for me to stress here that those interactions are by no means one-sided.

People need people. We all need love. We all need support. We all make mistakes and have problems and face our own challenges.

And I’ve found that those random positive interactions with fans tend to happen at moments when I’m maybe needing a little extra support or encouragement. I think God allows those moments to happen when they can really do me some good. And look, man … honestly, just straight up … I still make mistakes. I still struggle at times and lose my footing a bit, and oftentimes in those moments these amazing conversations happen that lift my spirits and encourage me to press on.

Along the same lines, I can tell you for a fact that the support and love I received during my years in Texas was critical to me during my playing years. Those couple of times when I’d relapsed, I remember always being super nervous at first about going to the ballpark after opening up and telling people what I’d done, but then I’d show up and look up into the crowd and there’d be all these really amazing signs.

WE LOVE YOU JOSH!

WE SUPPORT YOU!

WE BELIEVE IN YOU!

I’d be signing autographs down the line, and people would tell me their stories about overcoming challenges and be like, “Hey man, even though you’ve fallen or slipped up or made a mistake … we still care about you. We still look up to you and appreciate what you’re doing.”

Those kinds of moments meant more to me than you all will ever know.

Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo

And on the team side, with the front office and the coaches and the staff … the support those folks provided me was just above and beyond in every way. They never bailed on me, never turned their backs or degraded me. They really, truly cared.

It couldn’t have been easy, either.

I mean, there were some instances when I came back to the team after drinking or going out, after a relapse … and those press conferences were not pretty. They weren’t fun. But in those times I never felt alone.

It was all of us in those moments — Jon Daniels, Ron Washington, Thad Levine — all the guys who were in the trenches with me during the season. They were all right there with me, talking through things and not saying, “How are we going to save face?” or “How are we going to make this look like everything’s O.K.?” They were saying….

“Are you O.K.?”

Just being like, “First and foremost, we love you, Josh. We care about you….

“Are you O.K.?”

And that’s just … shoot … that’s hard to find anywhere in life — people who care about you like that, to that extent — much less in the workplace, you know what I mean?

That’s family.


I’ll be the first to admit that for the longest time I wasn’t sure about whether to call it a day and leave the game. I went back and forth on it, and held out hope of playing again for the Rangers … and just kind of kept that possibility alive.

But then one day I was out in the yard chopping firewood, and something pretty crazy happened.

This was after the 2016 season, so the beginning of 2017. I was busy being a dad and working on my ranch in Texas. My daughters had been homeschooled since 2012, and I had begun feeling strongly that they needed to be in a more traditional school. So I had been praying on it for about a week — just about how to find the right school, and make sure there was a good fit, and figuring out how that transition could happen. That’s just totally on my mind. It’s all I’m thinking about.

So I just finish chopping a piece of wood, when all of a sudden the Holy Spirit starts talking to me.

Just like what happened back in St. Louis during Game 6. Same deal.

Anyway, I hear the voice again, and He says, “You know you’re scared.”

Just out of nowhere He says that.

“You know you’re scared, right?”

And so I’m caught off guard by it, but I start talking back.

“Scared of what?” I say.

And mind you, this isn’t something I say in my head or whatever. I’m speaking those words. I’m saying them out loud, out there on my ranch with the axe in my hand.

“Scared of what?” I say again.

Then He speaks to me another time.

“Of being … done.”

At that point, I just remember being like, Um, O.K.

And He keeps going: “All you’ve known your whole life, since you were three years old, has been baseball.”

Now we’re going back and forth.

“Well,” I say, “I haven’t really played in two years. I’ve been hurt.”

And He responds: “Yeah, but mentally, physically, emotionally … you’re still invested in going back to play.”

There was a pause after that. I didn’t say anything for a second, and neither did He. Then … He came right out with it.

“It’s O.K. to be done, you know,” He said. “I have something more for you after baseball.”

“I have something more for you after baseball.”

Man, let me tell you … it was really something hearing that. I’ll never forget those words.

“I have something more for you after baseball.”

I smiled. Didn’t say anything in response. Didn’t have to.

Then, 10 minutes later — literally 10 minutes later, after I’d finished up with the wood — I called my agent and told him the news.

I was done. It was time.


Man … was the Lord ever right, too.

These days, I’m a dad first and foremost, and I couldn’t be happier.

My daughters are all in school now, and they’re loving it. They play softball and just truly enjoy being kids, hanging out with their friends and having fun. This past season, I even helped coach my oldest girl’s team during some practices.

But when it comes to game time … I just want to sit in the stands and watch.

It’s been a blast.

And I gotta say — softball is fun, man. I mean, have you guys ever caught a girls softball game before? It’s really amazing: The girls are all cheering in the dugouts, there’s all these fun chants happening. They play at this awesome fast pace. I love everything about it. For me it’s more fun to watch than baseball.

And you’ll be relieved to know that I’m not one of those screaming, maniac softball parents. I’m actually really chill during games — totally laid-back. I just want my kids to enjoy the sport, and I’d rather offer a kind word than a pointer.

You know, dad stuff.

It’s a beautiful thing, man. I’m happy.

Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

That being said, I’m not gonna lie: There are still moments when I really miss playing baseball.

It’s not a constant thing. It’s not all the time. But that desire still exists inside me somewhere.

It’s like 90% of the time I’m totally focused on the girls and my ranch and just being the best dad I can possibly be.

But that 10%….

Man, it’s tough to shake that 10%.

There are just these moments — mostly if I’m doing something athletic or just anything having to do with sports — when my mind is saying….

One month!

Whether it’s true or not, who knows, but I’m like, That’s all I’d need is one month. Four weeks, and I’d be ready to go. Running, diving, hitting.…

DHing at the very least.

I’ll go out to the driving range, start hitting a bucket of golf balls, and just be crushing everything — hitting drive after drive that rise up into the sky and then seem like they never actually land.

Hitting moonshots.

And my mind starts churning again.

But eventually I get in my truck, drive home, put the clubs away … and just kind of remind myself of that little conversation I had with the Lord out back when I was chopping wood.

In a flash, everything else fades away.

I realize that my girls need me more than I need baseball….

And that I’m exactly where I ought to be.

Home.

In Texas.

Right where I’ve always belonged.

Josh Hamilton
Texas Rangers