Faith on the diamond

josh hamiltonYou really can't write about major league baseball player Josh Hamilton without focusing on the faith aspect of his story. Even the reporters writing about him admit this in their articles. Part of the reason is that Hamilton talks about it so much, and the other part is that it is hard to objectively say that faith has not played a significant part of Hamilton's life. In other words, reporters cannot say that Hamilton is just talking about God because it sounds good. God is genuinely the reason Hamilton is doing batting practice these days and preparing for a summer on the baseball diamond.

Appropriately, a very thorough Dallas Morning News profile of Hamilton is headlined "Faith brings Texas Rangers' Hamilton back from the brink." The reporter Evan Grant establishes up front that you can't ignore the importance faith has played in Hamilton's life and his efforts to come back to the sport he loves:

Faith. It comes up often in the story of 26-year-old Joshua Holt Hamilton. It's virtually impossible to tell his story without mentioning his Christian faith. He'd prefer you not even try.

Faith, he regularly testifies, has put him back in baseball after four years of addiction problems so ugly you can't blame his family for not wanting to relive them. But because of faith, they do -- to churches, youth groups and halfway houses.

If Hamilton could shake his habit -- it included downing a bottle of Crown Royal almost daily and cocaine and crack cravings so strong he burned through a $3.96 million signing bonus -- and finally get to the big leagues last season, there had to be a reason.

Hamilton highlighted the role faith plays in his life when he told his story to ESPN The Magazine's Tim Keown earlier last summer. Unlike the DMN profile, Hamilton explicitly states what was attacking him ("the devil") and what saved him. It is not a generic "faith," that saved him from his drug addictions. Jesus Christ as his personal "savior" brought Hamilton back from the brink.

Hamilton's faith has not only saved him personally from his drug habit. From a baseball perspective, the DMN story highlights how faith played a practical role in bringing him back to baseball and now onto the Texas Rangers:

The Rangers spoke to doctors about dealing with addiction. They did some basic research on athletes and addiction. They found, at least on an anecdotal level, athletes who had strong faith-based beliefs were better positioned to stay clean.

UT-Southwestern addiction specialist Dr. Bryon Adinoff concurs.

"If you replace addiction with religion, it's not an addiction' it's something meaningful, socially appropriate and rewarding," Adinoff says. "It's typically very healthy behavior."

To that end, the Rangers wanted first-hand knowledge of how Hamilton expressed his faith. They sent scouts to some of his talks.

"He seemed to be presenting a very consistent message," Daniels says. "Before he got involved with drugs, everybody who dealt with him thought he was a very high-quality guy. We saw that. I think there are two things that have played a part in why this attempt at fighting addiction has been successful: Family and faith."

No one is going to question Hamilton's sincerity when he says faith is what has kept him alive and playing in baseball. Baseball officials seem to believe that Hamilton's faith is a reason to trust that he will not relapse.

I hope that Hamilton's story can be an example to other sports reporters of the effect faith can have in an athlete's life. When an athlete (or coach) cites faith as the reason for their success or abilities, reporters should dig deeper into those statements. As in Hamilton's life, faith is not just something someone talks about. It is the reason that person is alive.

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