When I talked to Matt Bush in late February, only a few weeks had passed since Josh Hamilton addressed his own relapse with alcohol. Bush, a former No. 1 overall pick whose self-destructive behavior fueled by alcoholism, anger and failure to produce nearly had pushed him out of baseball, gained hope from Hamilton.
Bush said he prays to God to help him stay sober, but also said Hamilton's plight reminded him to turn to those around him for help when he felt tempted to drink.
"I can't ever go out and [say] 'Oh, maybe I'll have a drink here — nobody's going to notice,' " Bush said. "You've got to be on your toes. It's a battle every single day.
"Like Josh has said, you have people to talk to. You need to let people know about things because I know, with this disease, it's not very good when you keep it all to yourself. If you don't tell people, then you might feel you can get away with [drinking]. The next thing you know, you're having a catastrophe."
Such a catastrophe happened Thursday night when Bush was arrested for driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. Bush was driving an SUV that allegedly struck a motorcycle driven by a 72-year-old man near Tampa Bay's spring training home in Port Charlotte, Fla. Bush reportedly fled the site of the crash that left Anthony Tufano in serious condition. Bush's blood alcohol level was measured at .180, more than twice the legal limit. Here's his mug shot.
A witness said Bush showed "an absolute disregard for human life":
"Literally the tire on the SUV ran over the driver's head. Without the helmet, the gentleman would have been dead instantly," said witness Scott Sugden.
A report by the Florida Highway Patrol says alcohol was a factor. You also could say that alcohol is a main factor in destroying Bush's life.
The hometown San Diego Padres made Bush the top overall pick as a high school senior in 2004. He was a shortstop — the first since Alex Rodriguez in 1993 to go first overall in the draft — and was likened to Alan Trammell, another San Diegan. But less than two weeks after the Padres drafted him, Bush was arrested outside of a nightclub following an altercation. That incident began a string of brushes with the law that usually involved alcohol. Bush has said that he took his first drink at 10 or 11 years old.
Never materializing into the second coming of Trammell, Bush hit .219/.294/.276 in 812 plate appearances before the Padres began transforming him into a pitcher in 2007. That process was slowed by an elbow injury that required Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in 2007. Two years later, he hit rock bottom emotionally and began the process of getting sober in earnest. The process will continue as long as Bush lives.
"I've learned to be not so angry and mad at the world because of my situation," Bush said. "I realize I cause things myself. No one did these things to me."
The Rays picked him up in 2010 hoping he could turn a mid-90s fastball and big curve into the arsenal of an effective major league reliever. Even though the Rays recently sent Bush to their minor league camp, it had been expected he would start the season at Triple-A. At some point in 2012, they probably would have called him up.
"I'm right on the doorstep," Bush said. "It's taken awhile, but I'm 26 now. I'm mature. I feel like a man, and I feel I can handle myself and know how to go about things. Today, I'm happy with myself and I'm content with life and I can go from there. I don't have to be the main guy in the spotlight. I don't have to be the best player or the biggest prospect. I'm just happy to be here. I just want to keep a job, really."
Manager Joe Maddon, a professed fan of second chances under the right conditions, seemed impressed with Bush.
"Tremendous," Maddon said. "As long as somebody steps up and is accountable and you can see a sincere desire and effort to make the necessary changes, that person's worth that second chance. But when you get the con man or the person that's just giving you the mouth, the what-you-want-to-hear kind of attitude, and then eventually just walks back, the second chance is pretty much going to be it. I like accountable people, and if you can see that they're doing the right things, I'm all for it."
Bush seemed to be doing all of the right things. He certainly said them, calling drinking "an escape" for him, noting that it was "dangerous" and he felt "uncomfortable" being around people who imbibe.
"I've been told that, eventually down the road, [an alcoholic] can handle going out [among hard drinkers] just having a glass of water or a soda," Bush said. "But I don't feel comfortable with it. I don't want to go there. If I'm in a situation like that, people probably start thinking, 'What's he drinking? or 'What's in that glass?' So I don't even go there."
Bush has been wary of team functions, planned or impromptu, that involve social drinking.
"I'll do it if the team requires it," Bush said. "Other than that, I feel like I need to stay home.
"I don't plan on putting myself in that situation any time soon."
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