It’s May 9, 2012. Last night Josh Hamilton hit four home runs in the Texas Rangers’ 10-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. Hamilton drove in eight of the Rangers’ 10 runs and he’s hit five homers already this week. It’s Wednesday. The Rangers-Orioles game is currently in a rain delay.
I live in Texas. Specifically, Central Texas, where I would estimate that seven out of ten baseball fans in the town where I live follow the Rangers (Reader’s note: probably two follow the Astros and the other guy follows the Braves or Yankees or Cubs or Cardinals). So I assume that baseball fans love Hamilton because most people I know love Hamilton. I get the feeling he’s not as famous as Albert Pujols in other big league markets. He seems like a low-profile superstar, but I could be wrong about that just as I could be wrong about Hamilton being widely adored by baseball fans.
Either way, Hamilton shed light on a facet of life all too familiar to anyone who ever over-thinks anything. Hamilton hit four home runs last night and I’m sure received many congratulations last night and today. He felt great about it for a while. But soon, it will be a thorn in his side.
Personally, I feel like I’m probably at the end of a four home run game in my professional, social and personal life. This game has been going since about the beginning of March. Maybe I’m just in the middle of a season when I’m hitting .360, but I feel without a doubt that the last week has been a four home run game for reasons I won’t unpack here. And all I can think about is the fact that it’s all about to crash and burn.
Hamilton could go out tonight and hit three or four more home runs. Or he could go out and strike out three times, hit into a double play and go 0-for-5. Or the game could be canceled because of rain, which would probably be the most relevant result for this particular metaphor. Why would a rain-out be appropriate? Because it would force Hamilton to consider his four home run game and the likelihood of his staying hot for another game. The considering is the worst part.
It could drive a man to drink.
That is not a cheap shot. It’s what a hack like me thinks is a brilliant transition to the fact that Hamilton has had substance abuse problems in the past. During the off-season, Hamilton made headlines by going to a bar and having a beer. It should be noted that right now I’m sitting in a pub having a beer. It’s not going to make headlines. However, I realize I’m not famous. And I’m especially not famous for being one of the best players in baseball despite having the obstacle of life-shattering substance addiction. Right now, I can’t remember if Hamilton was a full-on cocaine or heroin addict or if he was just a raging alcoholic, although I’m pretty sure drugs were in the mix. I’m not going to look it up because it’s not important. The important thing is that Hamilton cleaned himself up and made it back to the biggest stage in baseball in such a dramatic way that his team saw it as a good investment to hire a staff member to be in charge of making sure Hamilton stayed clean. On the radio today, someone said that addiction is an hour-to-hour battle, not merely a day-to-day battle. So it’s understandable that the team would want someone to help Hamilton fight that battle as long as Hamilton showed MVP potential. I wonder how many .220 hitters have consumed their way out of the game.
But we love Hamilton’s story. We love that someone can go so severely off the tracks and then find a way to fulfill the potential that was there all along. I’m sure this is the exact plot of a movie, but I can’t place it right now. The Fighter? The Wrestler? Hoosiers? Maybe I should just go on listing sports movies. Anyway, we don’t even mind that Hamilton had a “relapse” during the off-season. In fact, most of us don’t even consider it a relapse. So the guy had a beer? So what? Was Hamilton’s trip to the bar mostly innocuous or an indication of a larger problem. I fall more on the where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire side of things, so in a guessing game, I would guess that Hamilton had at least a minor fall off the wagon (It’s off the wagon right? I never can remember).
I mentioned earlier that I listened to people (Reader’s note: when I say “people” in reference to voices on sports radio, I’m using the term pretty loosely) speak on the subject of Hamilton’s relapse and the likelihood that the Rangers give him a long-term deal. The Rangers could be reticent to offer Hamilton a massive, 10-year-ish contract because they fear his demons could make that a heavy contract to fulfill at some point along the road. Let’s take a step back and look at this as it exposes the ridiculousness of sports media in 2012 — Hamilton hit four home runs in a game in May against the Orioles and we immediately charge in on the subject of contract extensions and alcohol addiction.
But that’s why we love him. The dude hit four home runs because he’s a badass and that’s all we care about right now. Let’s not worry about five or ten years from now. Let’s enjoy right now. Why can’t we do that?
Meanwhile, Tim Tebow is sitting somewhere admiring the hell out of Hamilton. OK, probably not. He’s probably telling some youths something that is making their lives better (for the next 30 minutes; seriously, no rhetoric in the universe changes a youth’s life for more than 30 minutes). But he should be admiring Hamilton.
The reason we (secretly) can’t stand Tebow is he is the kid in class who never cusses and whom all the teachers love. I don’t know why those two things make him impossible to like, but they do.
By the way, you know when we began hating Tebow? We began hating Tebow when an unimportant FOX play-by-play announcer said “That might be the first thing he’s ever done wrong in his life” after Tebow drew a taunting penalty in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game (Reader’s note: the announcer was Thom Brennaman. If it was Jim Nantz or Brent Musburger, he would be important but Nantz or Musburger might have avoided damning Tebow to a life of being hated for being too good). Since then, we’ve only seen Tebow as a quarterback who wasn’t actually as good on the field as he is off of it.
So what does Tebow need to do? He needs to develop a serious cocaine addiction. For real. He needs to Charlie Sheen it. He needs it to make huge headlines and he needs to be on television freaking out and crying at the same time. Then he needs to go into rehab and make a dramatic comeback (Reader’s note: when he comes back, he needs to complete more passes).
But back to Hamilton and where his current hot streak is leading. As I write this, the Rangers-Orioles game is still in a delay, which means Hamilton is probably chilling in the clubhouse. Maybe he’s chatting with Ian Kinsler and Mike Napoli about the last episode of South Park they watched.
But maybe he’s sitting all by himself wondering if he’ll ever hit another home run.
As Hamilton’s manager, Ron Washington says “That’s how baseball go.”
That’s how life go, Ron. That’s how life go.
[ Addendum: Going into the last game in June, Hamilton was batting .211 for the month with 3 home runs and hearing sharp criticism from the media and some fans. On July 24, Rangers president Nolan Ryan pointedly criticized Hamilton for throwing away at-bats as his average dipped below .300. This would prove my point more poignantly if it weren’t so inevitable. Personally, I’m probably hovering around .200 for the last month.]