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Josh Hamilton, tells the truth , a real man , he is only human

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He could have used the Photoshop excuse. Or the blogs-have-no-credibility defense. Or the "I don't remember'' line. Or the staged-prank claim. Or the evil-cousin-looks-just-like-me explanation. Or the b.s. spin tried by every high-profile juicer who can't face steroids reality.

Instead, Josh Hamilton tried an approach rarely seen anymore when a famous sports figure is caught in a compromising position. He brought truth, honesty and directness -- his only chance to make us understand just why in the hell a young woman was fondling his crotch while he and more young women

were taking turns licking whipped cream off each other's chests. Yes, he told us, the 12 Josh Gone Wild photos were real, shot last January in a bar near the Arizona State campus. Yes, he told us, it was the only time since Oct. 6, 2005 that he wasn't sober after his long, well-chronicled battle with alcohol and drugs. Yes, he told us, he is embarrassed, humiliated and pointing the finger at no one but himself.

He is an addict who relapsed. It happens. What doesn't happen very often is the addict confronting his demons, head on, just hours after the photos would surface on a blog site called Deadspin.com. Whether Hamilton wins the war with himself obviously remains unpredictable business, but anyone with a heart and a grasp of his disease should be impressed with his openness. Not only did he inform his wife, Major League Baseball and the team that employs him, the Texas Rangers, the day after his offseason romp, he was perfectly willing Saturday to stand by his locker in Anaheim, Calif., and address the situation with reporters.

It tells me he still has hope. And that's good, because the Josh Hamilton story has been too triumphant to implode now. Sport needs it. America needs it.

"I'm embarrassed about it. For the Rangers, I'm embarrassed about it. For my wife, my kids," Hamilton said. "I'm not perfect. It's an ongoing struggle, and it's real. I am human and I have struggles. It's one of those things that just reinforces about [the ills of] alcohol. Unfortunately, it happened. It just reinforces to me that if I'm out there getting ready for a season and taking focus off the most important thing in my recovery, which is my relationship with Christ, it's amazing how these things can creep back in.

"Honestly, I hate that this happened. But it is what it is. You deal with it."

And how many drinks did he have that night in the desert? "If I think I can have one drink, I think I can have two, and then it snowballs to 10 or 12,'' he said. "This guy I knew, he always used to joke, 'I'm allergic to alcohol. Every time I drink it, I break out in orange jumpsuits and handcuffs.' Some people it just doesn't mix with, and I'm one of those people.

"As soon as it happened, I called my support staff -- Katie, the organization and MLB -- and told them what happened. I was open and honest about it. People with an addiction can make a mistake."

He slipped when no one was looking, relaxing weeks before spring training after a workout at the Arizona-based Athletes' Performance Institute. He wanted something to eat, but rather than choose a food-oriented restaurant, Hamilton opted for Maloney's in Tempe, a hangout and bar first and a burger place second. He started to drink and, before you knew it, his shirt was off and the girls were treating him like a Chippendales dancer. "I wasn't mentally fit to go in there, spiritually fit, and it just crossed my mind, 'Can I have a drink?' And, obviously, I can't," he said. "That was very well reinforced, and I can honestly say since that night I have not even had a thought of trying another one."

Some will scoff at that -- and perhaps rightfully so. Already revealed to be vulnerable, what stops Hamilton from relapsing again in some major league city where temptations are as close as the hotel lobby and bar? As he once said of his struggles, "I'd go five or six months without picking up a ball or swinging a bat. By then, I'd been in rehab five or six times -- on my way to eight -- and failed to get clean. I was a bad husband and a bad father, and I had no relationship with God. Baseball wasn't even on my mind." And isn't it hard to dispute those who call him a hypocrite of sorts? After all, he is selling a $23.99 book about his tale -- "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back'' -- and he did an ESPN show, Homecoming, that profiled him as a conquering hero before a studio audience in his North Carolina hometown. Beyond Belief? Sadly, some would say Hamilton himself is beyond belief.

"I don't feel like I'm a hypocrite. I feel like I'm human," he said. "I got away from the one thing that keeps me straightened out and moving in the right direction, and that was my relationship with the Lord. I always knew there would be a chance it would come out. I believe I got to the point where if you have alcohol in your system, your inhibitions go out the window. The details don't matter -- what kind of drink it was. It just put me in a bad situation.

"I thought, to be honest with you, that [the photos] already would have been out. I talked to Katie about it, about what happened that night, what I could remember, and tried to prepare her for what might come out. We talked early [Saturday]. Obviously, she's very disappointed, and I'm very embarrassed for her and the organization and my children. You can't completely prepare for it. We've been praying about it ever since."

Just last summer, I sat mesmerized in New York as Hamilton crushed batting-practice pitches all over the old Yankee Stadium. It was the Home Run Derby contest at the All-Star Game, but really, this was Hamilton's coming-out party from his self-inflicted darkness. He hit 28 in the first round alone, 13 in a row at one point, and the standing ovations were long and loud in the Bronx and around the country. Who didn't love the story of the gifted player who fell prey to drugs and almost died, then found the Lord and his family and reclaimed his talent?

That's why our hearts sank when the news circulated Saturday. It was as if one of our own sons had suffered a setback. I wasn't angry in the least. I was saddened and disappointed but, admittedly, not shocked. The only criticism I have is why Hamilton didn't have a chaperone in Arizona. During the regular season, he is watched closely by Rangers coach Johnny Narron, who stays in an adjoining room to Hamilton's on road trips. They eat together, pray together, play cards together. Narron guards his hotel room to make sure unwanted past influences stay away. Initially Saturday, Narron said he didn't believe the photos were authentic. But how would he know if he wasn't at Maloney's?

"It's not Johnny's fault," Hamilton said. "We have a good relationship, and we trust each other. Obviously, I breached that trust. I've asked for his forgiveness. We've done things to improve that and be on the same page even more.''

 Meanwhile, the Rangers are saddled with baggage they don't need as they try to hang in the American League West race with the Angels. Hamilton has yet to fail a drug test -- he is mandated for three a week by MLB -- and there will be no disciplinary action because he isn't banned from drinking. But everywhere the Rangers go, a Hamilton cloud will lurk. "It's something you're always going to deal with," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We just have to help him make the best decisions we can. I'd hesitate to say it's something we're going to put behind us, but we're not going to allow this to become a distraction the rest of the season and we'll try to move on as best we can.''

Nor will there be a leave of absence. "That would be counterproductive," Daniels said. "We knew that going in when we acquired Josh. We know the risks of dealing with someone with substance abuse problems. Ultimately, he's a grown man and he has to make his own decisions. Nobody's here to babysit him, but we should help him make the right decisions and help him get through this."

It's a unique dilemma, if not unprecedented in baseball. Only because of his enormous ability is Hamilton being given a chance that other addicts wouldn't receive. Yet the Josh Gone Wild episode reminds us that a happy ending doesn't necessarily await. "This ongoing struggle -- battle -- it's very real,'' he said. "A lot of people don't understand how real it is."

I think we do now.

 

“Josh is a wonderful man, father and husband who happens to be human. We are all flawed and that's why we need a Savior,” Katie Hamilton wrote Sunday in the Texas Rangers Blog on Dallasnews.com.

One day earlier, Josh Hamilton had appeared before the press after about a dozen photos were posted in Deadspin.com showing the born-again baseball star in a number of compromising poses with at least three different women – none of which were his wife.

According to Hamilton, the relapse occurred in January when he “wasn’t mentally fit” nor “spiritually fit" to go into the restaurant-bar he chose to eat at that night and decided that he could have one drink – which turned into two and “snowball[ed] into 10 or 12.”

“Obviously, I did something very wrong,” Hamilton confessed Saturday. “That hurts me very deeply, too, but the biggest one is Katie. The question gets asked, 'What if I saw something like that with her?' Obviously, it stirs up a lot of thoughts. It's tough.”

But, as she had done during the time of his addiction, Hamilton’s wife forgave him for what he had done after he told her what had happened.

“Katie and I have a strong relationship,” Hamilton said. “She told me she forgives me, and she meant it.”

Hamilton told reporters that as soon as the incident took, he called his wife, his support team, the Rangers, and even the Major League Baseball organization.

“I was absolutely open and honest about it,” the 23-year-old North Carolina native stated.

In her comments late Sunday night, Katie Hamilton vouched for her husband, saying he “was very honest with me and those involved and didn't try to hide anything or cover up his mistake.”

“That has made this weekend far easier than you can imagine on me, b/c I was able to deal with it back in January,” she wrote.

To those who say they “just can’t forgive” her husband for his one-night relapse, Katie asked how it was possible that “his wife – the one whom he hurt the most, by far through this” – is able to forgive him but others cannot.

“I mean, to say something is ‘unforgivable’ is an inaccurate statement. You can forgive – if you choose to do so. It really isn't that difficult – and I pray that you can and will, in time, forgive him,” she wrote.

“I pray that you all know that he is a very sincere individual with a love for the Lord that is REAL,” Katie added.

According to Relapse Prevention, studies have shown that 54 percent of all alcohol and other drug abuse patients can be expected to relapse, and that 61 percent of that number will have multiple periods of relapse.

Hamilton, who joined the Rangers late 2007, had returned to the MLB after having been away for four years as a result of the drug addiction he developed starting in 2001.

Since 2005 – when Hamilton was challenged by his grandmother to surrender to God, began reading the Bible, and gave up drugs and alcohol – Hamilton’s life and baseball career have been taking off. Last year, Hamilton made headlines when he belted a record-breaking 28 home runs in the first round of the MLB All-Star Home Run Derby.

Regarding January’s incident, Hamilton said Saturday, “Obviously, it's one of those things that reinforce that I can't have alcohol.”

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