NEW YORK – Since what Josh Hamilton did in the Home Run Derby on Monday night couldn't have been real, let's imagine for a moment that he swung in the batter's box of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and Reggie Jackson, their private launching pad, the most sacred side of a home plate in baseball.
And let's imagine that a 71-year-old man named Claybon Counsil, one who had been to Yankee Stadium only once before, and that was for Don Larsen's perfect game in the World Series on Oct. 8, 1956, threw one himself.
And let's imagine that one of those perfect pitches he threw to Hamilton, the second one, in fact, flew deep into the Bronx night Monday, so high and far that every player on the field lost track of it and thought it disappeared – like magic.
And let's imagine it bounced off the Bank of America sign in right field 502 feet away, about 10 short of clearing the entire stadium, and that Hamilton was only getting started, as he would hit another 504 feet and another 518.
And let's imagine that after he slugged his 15th home run Hamilton kept going and reeled off 13 straight without a single miss, his round ending with 28 balls soaring 12,458 feet.
And let's imagine that during this he turned toward the catcher, a guy he didn't know, and said, "This is awesome."
And let's imagine the crowd thought so, too, that they serenaded a 27-year-old in his second major-league season with ovations reserved for kings, or the Babe and Lou and the Mick and Rog and Mr. October, by chanting his last name: "Ha-mil-ton, Ha-mil-ton, Ha-mil-ton."
And let's imagine Ha-mil-ton worked the fans into such a frenzy that when he hit his 17th into the stadium's famed black seats in center field, 497 feet from home plate, two fans leapt a barrier, wrestled one another down 20 rows of seats for control of the ball and wound up in handcuffs with misdemeanor trespassing charges, which were well worth it, because years from now, when tens of thousands of people say they saw the night Josh Hamilton went off, those two can prove it.
And let's imagine Hamilton was a recovering junkie.
And let's imagine that no one, not even a superman like Josh Hamilton, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound specimen, picked No. 1 in the 1999 draft by Tampa Bay ahead of Josh Beckett, could come back from a crack addiction that wilted his body and his will.
And let's imagine that Hamilton did, and returned to the major leagues with the Cincinnati Reds, who believed in him even though all that separated him from five straight years of inactivity was 50 at-bats in the low minor leagues.
And let's imagine the Texas Rangers coveted Hamilton enough to trade their top pitching prospect to acquire him this offseason, commit to him their center field job, allow him to play every day and watch him lead the major leagues in RBIs and get voted by fans to start the All-Star Game.
And let's imagine soon after he laid down the crack pipe Oct. 5, 2005, he actually dreamt that he participated in a Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium.
And let's imagine he's here, setting a record for home runs in a single round, sapping his energy by giving it all to a crowd that wants more, and that he ended up losing the thing, getting outhomered 5-3 in the final round by Justin Morneau, even though, cumulatively, he hit 13 more.
And let's imagine Morneau walked into the clubhouse with the trophy and almost felt guilty enough to give it to Hamilton, because everyone knew who really won.
And let's imagine Milton Bradley, Hamilton's teammate, a hardened soul and media pinata for years, turned into a Hallmark card and say, "Morneau took home the trophy, but Hamilton took home the hearts."
And let's imagine Claybon Counsil, the batting-practice pitcher, the one who has thrown at least a million pitches for his American Legion team in rural North Carolina, Cary Post 67, was standing there still tingly from the whole thing, not willing to slip off his jersey, telling Hamilton he had his second wind, in case he wanted one more go at it.
And let's imagine Hamilton heard about how many homers he hit in a row and asked, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, "Is that a record, too?" and then proceeded to keep talking, because he was trying to piece together his night as well.
And let's imagine Johnny Narron walked into the room and kept his eye on Hamilton, like he always does, as his full-time job is to ensure there's no relapse, and that he shrugged off the whole evening, like it was nothing, "Because we've seen him do it so long, we're used to it. People look at us like we're crazy when we say that, but it's true."
And let's imagine Narron is telling the truth.
- Josh Hamilton