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07/14/08 5:30 PM ET

Hamilton's life no longer a nightmare

Rangers All-Star slugger finds redemption on field of dreams

NEW YORK -- People impressed and inspired by baseball's most conspicuous performer keep suggesting that someone should make a movie about Josh Hamilton's life.

But it has already been done, and it was called "The Natural."

Now, this isn't one of those trite Roy Hobbs references, another invocation of great innate talent.

At the heart of the classic film is Robert Redford's celluloid character reappearing after a 15-year fall off the face of baseball.

Hamilton's fall wasn't quite as long. The overall No. 1 choice of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft, by Tampa Bay, was down and out for only three years. But it was steeper and grimier. And his re-emergence, to dizzying heights, from essentially a three-year drunk, has been well-documented for an applauding and marveling audience.

Both the awe and the audience have grown the past few days, along with the stage. The guy who a few years ago couldn't make it out of bed has made it in New York and, as someone once sang, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

Monday noon, sitting in a short-sleeved shirt that offered just a teaser into his road map of legendary tattoos, Hamilton's eyes sparkled as he held court in the Empire State Ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

He tirelessly, with unwavering energy, opened himself up to questions he has been answering daily for 18 months, since he appeared from the abyss in the 2007 Spring Training camp of the Cincinnati Reds.

"I'm sure a lot of you get tired hearing me talk about it," Hamilton said, the biggest "it" in the room, a two-letter summary of drugged stupor and drunken binges.

"Being on this stage means a lot, but being clean today is the biggest thing. Sharing that with more people is what I feel like I'm here for. Not the baseball."

Hamilton is asked what a typical night would have been for him on July 15, 2005 -- three years before the 79th All-Star Game, which he will start in Yankee Stadium's center field, and 10 weeks before he would crawl to his grandmother's front door at 2:30 in the morning and cry for redemption.

"I was just ... it was making bad decisions. I could sit here and say it was being young and having money. But when you come down to it, I had good values and decision-making skills. I just didn't use them properly."
-- Josh Hamilton

"I had no set up plan," Hamilton said, with only slight hesitation. "I might've been on my 24-hour sleep part. Or, out at a bar drinking, or running around in the middle of nowhere, trying to get more whatever."

The one thing he definitely would not have been doing -- even if he'd been sober enough -- was watch baseball's All-Star Game.

"I don't know if I've ever watched an All-Star Game. I have, however," Hamilton added with a knowing grin, "watched the Home Run Derby."

And then, Hamilton reveals having had a prescient dream about the Home Run Derby. But even his dreams are more substantial than those of the average ballplayer.

Because, his dream wasn't about participating -- which in fact he would do hours following this interview. Rather, it was about the pulpit raised by that participation.

"Now I'm not making this up, but soon after my sober date (Oct. 5, 2005), I had a dream about being in the Home Run Derby in Yankee Stadium," he said.

Hamilton realized the setup advisory was needed: This All-Star Game wouldn't actually be awarded to the outgoing Bronx ballpark until 2007.

"So I didn't even know about an All-Star Game or Home Run Derby actually being held in Yankee Stadium, but I had this dream. And I didn't see how I did. All I saw was this microphone in my face afterwards, and how I got to share with people the reason I am back.

"You can say that dream was a coincidence. But I don't believe in that."

What Hamilton does believe in, with fervor, is the divine guidance that led him back to life, and to the people and the game that he loves.

Whatever your religious leanings, you can't listen to this young man without feeling his former pain and his current joy, which surrounds him in and out of uniform.

"To be here with these guys," Hamilton said, looking around a cavernous hall filled with great baseball talent, "it's like being a little kid in a candy store. I don't know which way to go, who to say, 'Hey,' to.

"But having my family here is the most important thing to me. Because everything I went through, they went through ... knowing I had the talent to do this for a living, and wasting it by doing drugs and alcohol."

They will all share in person the next step in The Recovery ... his wife and kids, his mother and father, his in-laws.

They all came close to losing Josh. And now that he is back in their permanent embraces, they must learn to share him with others.

Thousands of others, including many who wouldn't know a tinder box from a batter's box. Hamilton's story is universal, and he'd like to think he knows why.

"Probably, because I've been honest about everything. I've taken responsibility, haven't blamed anyone or used excuses," he said.

"I've made mistakes, but I don't know many people who haven't. I'm being honest with them, letting them know how to move in the right direction."

And, perhaps, follow him out of a shared pit?

"I hope I am able to do that: be inspiring to people," Hamilton nodded. "I hear it all the time, all over the country. During batting practice, people come up to me with articles in their hands, saying they have a family member or a sister or a brother going through the same things, and saying they will give them those articles in the hope it will inspire them to be better."

That's what Josh Hamilton brings to this Midsummer showcase.

Not the .310 batting average, or the 21 homers or the 95 RBIs.

And pulling 90 home runs out of hallowed Yankee Stadium wouldn't leave the impression of his words, uncompromisingly describing his actions.

"I was just ... it was making bad decisions," Hamilton said "I could sit here and say it was being young and having money.

"But when you come down to it, I had good values and decision-making skills. I just didn't use them properly."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.