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Hamilton lives life as an open book

Hamilton lives life as an open book

Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton is one bad man. He could be the best.

If you haven't heard about Hamilton yet, especially you American League fans, don't be embarrassed. In no time, you'll hear all about how the former No. 1 Draft pick spent as much time in drug rehab and on suspension as he did in the Minor Leagues, you'll hear how he has been sober since 2005 and how he just might be the best overall talent in the Major Leagues.

Listen closely, and you might even hear how we should not be celebrating a former drug addict and rants from those that choose to dwell on "how good he would have been" had he chosen a different path. Hamilton was so "bad," he'll never be "good enough" for some, but that's just the reality of living in a society where some choose to look everywhere but in the mirror.

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But hey, the story-telling, the celebrating, the relating, and to a lesser extent, the judging, is exactly why Media Day at the All-Star Game is such an event. And there is little doubt that if Hamilton continues his torrid offensive pace, he'll be in the spotlight of spotlights and on the podium in front of reporters from across the globe at the Midsummer Classic in mid-July in New York.

Yes, it's only May. Yes, he is basically a rookie. But yes, he's that good. Hamilton hit the game-winning home run for the Rangers against the Twins on Thursday in extra innings and now leads the Major Leagues with 53 RBIs and is tied for the American League lead with 12 home runs. He is hitting .335 and is tops in the AL with 121 total bases. He was the American League Player of the Month for April in his first career month in the AL. His all-around talent rivals Yankees future Hall of Fame third baseman Alex Rodriguez. His life story blows A-Rod's away.

Any question you have about Hamilton will likely be answered -- 10 times over -- in your local newspaper or second favorite Web site come July. And the interesting part of it all is the fact the outfielder will probably share his story with a smile on his face. It's part of who he is. It's part of his mission.

You see, Hamilton is an old school player. He is also a talker. Many say he is an inspiration. At the beginning of Spring Training this year, he went into detail about how addictions to alcohol and cocaine almost destroyed his life but his family and Christian faith saved him. A hot shot out of North Carolina, he was selected as the first overall pick by the Devil Rays in 1999, but fell into a downward spiral of drugs after landing on the disabled list in 2001. He went on to fail multiple drug tests, was suspended on numerous occasions and went to rehab eight times. Hamilton missed a total of 3 1/2 seasons because of the substance abuse problems and was eventually picked up via the Rule 5 Draft by the Reds in 2006.

Last season with the Reds, Hamilton hit .292 with 19 homers and 47 RBIs. He was traded to Texas for pitcher Edinson Volquez this winter. Volquez is 7-1 and leads the Major Leagues with a 1.33 ERA, so it's safe to say the move benefited both teams.

On the field, he shines. He's also a star off it. Hamilton speaks from experience. He also speaks from his heart. Ask him and he'll say most of the two dozen tattoos on his body represent demons. He'll also say his last tattoo, the one of Jesus Christ on the back of his leg, is the most symbolic and powerful. It represents victory.

One look at the man and one conversation with him and it's easy to see he's not that much different than anybody else (outside of all the muscle). Like the rest of us, he's doing the best he can with what he was given while walking the fine line between labels like "mistakes," "regrets" and "learning lessons." The beauty of it all is that Hamilton shares his story with youth groups, churches, fans, reporters and more importantly, readers, and he probably always will. It's what he does.

It could be part of the reason there are so many Hamilton T-shirts and jerseys in the stands at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington these days. Almost everyone has known somebody that has voluntarily or involuntarily been to the emotional or physical abyss Hamilton once inhabited. Not everybody knows somebody that has made it back.

Fans love his game, but most of all, Hamilton represents hope in Texas. He might also help get the Rangers out of the AL West cellar for the first time in several years, which would be a nice change of pace in North Texas.

He is already being compared to Rangers great Juan Gonzalez and some say his sweet swing is reminiscent of Rafael Palmeiro's. If A-Rod had not asked to be traded out of Texas, Hamilton would be compared to him, too. The truth is that Hamilton will never be viewed as just another Texas Rangers player because his talent level makes it impossible. He should never be viewed as just another athlete because his past shouldn't let him.

And that's not a bad thing. Boo to the school that views Hamilton as just a ballplayer and ignores his past and future impact off the field. He doesn't see himself that way, so why should anybody else?

You'll get the chance to make up your own mind in about two months, when his face and story flood into your living rooms. In the meantime, enjoy the Hamilton show. He hits third every night.

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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