“BEYOND BELIEF: FINDING THE STRENGTH TO COME BACK,” by Josh Hamilton and Tim Keown, (FaithWords), 288 pages, Published Oct. 13, 2008
Josh Hamilton recounts his turbulent journey back to professional baseball stardom. Rock bottom was induced by drugs and alcohol after being the first overall pick in the 1999 Major League Baseball draft. He sets the record straight on his dark past, including a four-year addiction to drugs and alcohol that removed him from Major League baseball, as many baseball fans followed closely in the media.
Many of these kinds of sports tales end tragically in death — Len Bias’s cocaine overdose in 1986, Rod Scurry’s cocaine overdose in 1992 and Ken Camintini’s cocaine and heroine overdose in 2004 — but Hamilton’s is a success story.
It is one of hope, temptation, heartbreak, grief, addiction, control, perseverance, faith, inspiration and the love of the game. Reading it from his perspective changes some notions about professional athlete, who can struggle with doubt, temptation and addiction despite being put glorified on a pedestal by the public. It is remarkable to make it to the professional level, let alone coming back after drug and alcohol addiction to reclaim all-star status.
How does Hamilton do it? Hamilton and Keown keep it simple, which is always a wise strategy for attracting sports junkies who live for the highlights and not so much for the narratives. However, its appeal is not limited to sports lovers. It delivers a nice faith-based message of Hamilton’s comeback uncovering every skeleton like a crack addiction and the pain he caused loved ones along the way. While books incorporating spiritual awakenings are not my particular favorite, Hamilton and Keown do a satisfactory job without making the message sound too preachy.
It begins with baseball. Hamilton grew up a baseball prodigy, always playing in leagues older than his age group. From an early age he was publicized as the next great up-and-comer, like a Ken Griffey Jr. As a result he lived a very structured and regimented lifestyle that revolved around baseball. He grew up straight-edge, never trying drugs or alcohol. Eventually his hard work and natural talents paid off, earning him the distinction of being the first overall pick in the draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at age 18, when he was offered a $3.96 million signing bonus.
Hamilton also discusses his derailing injury from a car accident before the 2001 season. That was when Hamilton started spending a lot of time around a tattoo parlor, which is evident today by the full arm sleeves he tries to hide under sweatbands during games. “When I first got into drinking and using drugs, it was because of where I was hanging out; it was whom I was hanging out with,” Hamilton writes. “You might not do it at first, but eventually, if you keep hanging around long enough, you’re going to start doing what they’re doing.” His connections at the tattoo shop led him to experimenting with drugs and alcohol for the first time. In the same night, he rails his first line of cocaine before trying his first beer.
Hamilton’s sobriety can be attributed to a few factors, which he discusses in-depth. His grandmother, Mary Holt, convinced him to get clean. Michael Chadwick, father of Hamilton’s wife Katie, helped him reconnect him with religion. Hamilton realizes there is more to life than baseball, after battling his demons and winning.
At times the story is heartbreaking, at times inspiring. Baseball is sometimes still referred to as America’s pastime, a status that offers a great platform for Hamilton to deliver his message of faith, strength and perseverance. It is an easy and quick read that I recommend to anyone: baseball lovers, kids, stubborn readers and bookworms alike.