High School Sports

Stevens: Baseball star Josh Hamilton's struggles continue

Years ago at a Chemical Awareness Conference that was sponsored by the N.C. High School Athletic Association, athletics officials were surprised when they were asked to refrain from smoking or dipping tobacco products and discontinue use of alcohol for the duration of the weeklong conference.

Many of the officials thought they were there to learn about anabolic steroids and street drugs, but the presenters were very emphatic that the two most abused drugs among high school students were alcohol and tobacco.

The coaches and administrators had to set a better example, the presenters said.

Later in the conference, former NBA star John Lucas talked about his struggle with drugs, including cocaine.

Lucas, a former Durham Hillside and University of Maryland star and one of the best high school athletes North Carolina has ever produced, was working with athletes who had problems with addictions.

He said being addicted didn’t mean you were a bad person, just an addict.

Josh Hamilton’s struggles with alcohol and addictions refreshed memories of that conference of more than 20 years ago.

Hamilton, who overcame alcohol and drug addictions to become the 2010 American League MVP, was to meet with Major League Baseball this week about a disciplinary issue. He was suspended from baseball from February 2004 to June 2006 for issues related to cocaine and alcohol addiction.

He undergoes drug testing three times a week and acknowledged relapses involving alcohol in 2009 and 2012.

Michael Dean Chadwick, Hamilton’s father-in-law, said Thursday that he didn’t know anything about the baseball meeting and couldn’t talk about it if he did. He earlier told Newsday that Hamilton, “hit a bump in the road; keep him in your prayers.”

Hamilton, 33, once told me he never used drugs unless he had been using alcohol. He described his addiction by saying the little man who lives in his brain and who tells him to avoid drugs leaves as soon as Hamilton takes his first drink.

During his periods of drug abuse, Hamilton’s desire for alcohol was irrational.

We talked about that one afternoon at his home. He had played with his children in the backyard, wrestling, tossing pitches underhanded, laughing and saying how wonderful his life had become. He was hoping MLB would give him another chance. He loved his wife. Adored his children.

But he could see a chasm.

A little country store was near his home. He said every time he drove past, he wanted to stop and have a beer. He wanted a drink although he knew it might destroy his career, his marriage, his relationships with his family and any chance of happiness.

He said he had to resist every day, knowing one slip could be disastrous.

He gave in to his addictions soon after and spiraled out of control. When he reached what seemed to be the bottom, his faith and his grandmother helped him rise above the destruction.

That rise was an inspiration to many and was the subject of his book, “Beyond Belief, Finding the Strength to Come Back.”

He returned to baseball, helped lead the Texas Rangers to back-to-back trips to the World Series and won the MVP award.

Hamilton signed a five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels before the 2013 season. He has struggled with injuries and had shoulder surgery this month. He was not expected to play until at least May.

Years ago, Katie Hamilton said her husband had learned money couldn’t buy happiness. Josh Hamilton had become a millionaire soon after being drafted by Tampa Bay out of Athens Drive High in 1999.

Addictions almost destroyed him. His battles continue.

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