Josh Hamilton returns to Texas Rangers for induction into team's Hall of Fame, and faith is key

A decade ago, “The Unbelievable Josh Hamilton” was one of the biggest stars in baseball — with one of the most amazing, complex stories.

The real-life tale of Hamilton was full of major-league demons linked to his battle with drug and alcohol addiction.

For the first time in years, Hamilton — once the subject of so many posts here at GetReligion — returned to the baseball spotlight over the weekend.

In advance of his induction Saturday night into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame, Hamilton wrote a mostly sugarcoated first-person account of his time in Texas for The Players’ Tribune:

The most intriguing part of Hamilton’s account is that before trading for the troubled player, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels sent scouts to listen to Hamilton tell his redemption story at churches:

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.

At the induction ceremony, Hamilton referenced his faith often, and Rangers beat writers did a nice job of noting his emphasis in their spot news coverage.

The Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant even managed to cite a specific Scripture that Hamilton noted:

The prepared remarks, on which Hamilton often stumbled, became more a sermon on his failures and frailties and his Christian faith than a recitation of big moments. He started by thanking God, then teammates and medical staff because, he said, "I spent a lot of time in the training room."

The thank you's lasted four minutes. The rest was citing Bible verses in relation to his career. It was, at times, awkward. Hamilton is best when speaking straight from the heart, not from the script. But he had a point to make.

"Take the mercy and accept the help," he said citing Hebrews 4:16. "My life wouldn't be what it is if I hadn't asked for Jesus' help. When you look at my career, it's clear when I was asking for and getting God's guidance and when I wasn't. An example: Leaving for the Angels."

That drew big cheers from the crowd.

Then he broke from the prepared script.

What does Hebrews 4:16. Here it is, via the New International Version of the Bible:

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Elsewhere, The Associated Press’ Stephen Hawkins (with whom I enjoyed working during my AP days in Dallas) let Hamilton describe his Christian faith in his own words:

The slugger's story is well-documented, from being the first overall pick out of high school in the 1999 amateur draft by Tampa Bay, to the drug and alcohol addictions that nearly destroyed his career. He was out of baseball for 3½ years before his comeback, making his big league debut with Cincinnati in 2007 before being traded to the Rangers after that season.

"Looking back reminds me of God's grace and his mercy," said Hamilton, sharing his Christian faith during his induction speech. "Some people will say that I'm a hypocrite, or they have said it. I simply say I'm human. Y'all know my story. You can't look at that and tell me that you think I did that all on my own, or with just willpower. It didn't happen. That much willpower doesn't exist in the world."

Another faith-based quote, included by MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan:

“I just want you to know my life wouldn’t have ended up like I did or close to it if I didn’t have help from Jesus Christ,” Hamilton said. “You all know my story. You can’t look at the end and tell me that I did that all on my own or with just willpower.”

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Jeff Wilson asked the question on many people’s minds as Hamilton returned to Texas’ Globe Life Park:

What if he’d never left?

What if he’d never left Texas, that is, to sign a big contact with the Los Angeles Angels, where he spent a troubled few years before his return to the Rangers?

The Fort Worth paper mainly avoided the faith issue in its story, except to boil down Hamilton’s approach to life — rather nicely — like this:

He continues to live within an arm’s reach of the Lord, as was evident in his speech, but sobriety still isn’t easy.

As a Rangers fan, I enjoyed seeing Hambone back on the field again.

I wish him and his three daughters — who have become his top priority now — all the best.

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