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ANAHEIM, Calif. – The coldest details mean Josh Hamilton is tested three times a week for the substances that would wreck his life, that he travels with a professional companion who serves in the difficult times as his conscience, and that failing either would have dire professional consequences.
The Los Angeles Angels are into that now for $125 million, and so is Hamilton. That's the daily process. He wakes up every morning and tries to put another day between himself and whatever was back there, and they wake up and hope their five-year commitment was a sound one.
It's about accountability and, for Hamilton, God. It's about living up to the contract and the Angels' trust in him. It's about the woman who sits beside him still, that being his wife Katie, who has seen the best and the worst of the last 10 years and keeps showing up, loving more.
So he answers to his faith and his best friend and his paycheck and his game and his accountability overseer. And that's just part of it.
Hamilton arrived Saturday morning to a red carpet in a corner of Disneyland that has big-screen televisions and just about any beer you could think of on tap. He shook hands and signed autographs and, when asked for a photo, he'd seize the camera, hold it at arm's length, lean in and take the shot himself. He laughed and hugged Arte Moreno, who'd made him feel wanted and then made him richer.
Near the front door of the sports bar that would hold a news conference, Katie held a little girl, barely more than a year old. Three other little girls stood nearby. They were blonde and beautiful and a couple had his blue eyes. Once inside, the girls took seats assigned by white sheets of paper, their names in black Sharpie: Julia, Sierra, Michaela, Stella.
Yes, Josh Hamilton would leave the Texas Rangers, the organization that raised him as a major-league ballplayer, that guided him through relapses and stood by him during the fallout. He would leave the routine that pushed him when he awoke every morning and the structure that put another happy, constructive, clean day behind him.
In the months leading to his free agency, and certainly in the weeks of his free agency, the risks of his freedom came to define his free agency. He was – is – in the prime of a career that has been breathtaking. Among the best athletes to ever play the game, Hamilton, at 31, would not get the contracts Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez did at about the same age. Instead, he got a free agency treated casually by his former organization and then he got about half what Pujols and Rodriguez got.
Instead of a swarm of questions about a lineup of Mike Trout, Pujols and Hamilton, of what this means for the AL West and where the balance of power might lie in the American League (though there were some), he was asked if the Angels were right to believe in him and why.
He'll probably bat third and play left field, and he'll stand out there with their name on his chest and his across his shoulders. He'll believe, because that's what he does, because he's bigger and stronger and faster. He can play the sport like few ever have when he is right in mind and body, and that's the job, of course. There is upheaval in a new job, new professional expectations, new surroundings and new people. Maybe there is risk. And Josh Hamilton, ultimately, chose to leave the Texas Rangers.
"I think structure is important in anybody's life, period," he said. "When you have idle time, sitting around doing nothing, that's when you get in trouble. It's funny to me listening to everybody report – 'the support system is in Texas, he's comfortable in Texas' – it was like, here we go. I've talked about my support system, God, my wife, my kids, [accountability partner] Shayne Kelley. Wherever I'm going to be, they're going to be. Like anywhere, no matter where I was at, I need structure. That's in the offseason being with my family, going to church, doing all the things I need to do to be a better man and father and husband. During the season it's that routine of doing bible studies and hanging out with my teammates and creating relationships there. And having that routine of what you do on a daily basis before you go out and perform that night. … All that stuff applies no matter where I'm at."
He sat on a stage with all the grownups. He explained himself, his life again. He wore the uniform, smiled like he does, and said, "Feels good. How's it look?"
From their chairs, those four little girls – his little girls – looked up at him and smiled back. They're in this too. The parts of the story they haven't lived, they've heard about, and they did again Saturday morning.
They are why Josh Hamilton is easy to believe in, but not so he can play baseball and make the Angels winners. They need a happy, constructive and clean dad. They need to laugh at his goofy jokes. They need to hear the front door open at the end of the workday. And they need to wake up every morning and know he's about to put another day between himself and whatever was back there.
Yeah, Josh Hamilton left the Texas Rangers and whatever worked there. And the Angels are into whatever's next for $125 million. Maybe some think it will work here because the money and the career are too good to throw away, maybe some aren't too sure.
I think it'll work because of Julia, Sierra, Michaela and Stella.
"It comes to a point of making choices," he said. "What choices are you going to make?"
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