All of us have read or heard about Josh Hamilton’s incredible story, and last night, many of us were lucky enough to witness on TV his stunning home run exhibition in the first round of the Home Run Derby (in which he hit an amazing 28 home runs, a record).
Personally, I’m deeply inspired by Josh Hamilton’s comeback from drug and alcohol addiction (as is Peter Gammons, who writes so eloquently about the meaning of Hamilton in his blog) and I’m rooting hard for his continued success. I only wish he were on the Red Sox, so I could watch him play and cheer for him every day.
But what I want to write about tonight is the impact that Hamilton has had on my 9 year-old son. This kid is a fiercely loyal Red Sox fan, and in his four years as an “aware” fan of the game, Josh Hamilton is only the third non-Red Sox player he has rooted for with passion (the others are Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra). Why does he like Josh Hamilton so much? Two reasons:
1. On Patriots Day, April 22, I took my two sons and a friend of theirs to the Red Sox-Rangers game. Afterwards, they spotted a Rangers player signing autographs near the Rangers dugout. “Daddy, can we run over there and get his autograph?” Sure, you can try, I replied. I hadn’t seen a player sign autographs after a game at Fenway Park since I was a kid, in the late ’70s or early ’80s, and I could feel their excitement about scoring a major leaguer’s autograph. They were at the back of a large line of people, but the unknown Rangers player signed and signed and posed for photos with anyone who was interested. By the time my oldest son and his friend reached the front of the line, the player had been signing for perhaps ten minutes, and he seemed to be in no hurry to go take a shower.
He signed my son’s hat, then politely and calmly posed for a photo with my son and his friend. What do you say, I whispered. “Thank you,” my son said. You’re welcome, buddy, the player replied. As we walked away, the player continued to sign autographs and pose for photos. “Who was that?” I asked my son. “Josh Hamilton, see?” he replied, showing me the autograph on the white brim of his Red Sox cap. The kids glowed all the way home, their Fenway experience having ended in a magical way.
2. Last night, Hamilton won our hearts forever with monumental shot after monumental shot, his 71 year-old former high school baseball coach pitching to him, and his proclamation to FOX sportscaster Erin Andrews that he had dreamed the exact scene, including being interviewed by her. “Mommy, come in here if you want to see history being made!” my son yelled after HR number 25. He was mesmerized. So was I. (Weren’t you??)
Today at my son’s day camp, the kids were given t-shirts and invited to decorate them with markers. When I picked him up in the late afternoon, he was wearing a homemade all-star team replica shirt with the word “American” scrawled across the front and the name “Hamilton” written in block letters across the top of the back of the shirt. (Oops, Hamilton isn’t #21, he’s #32…. details…) He wore the t-shirt the rest of the day, even while we watched seven Red Sox players compete in the All-Star Game.
Hamilton’s improbable transformation makes him a fascinating figure to the media and all of us adult fans, but that side of the player means almost nothing to young baseball fans out there. They love the guy for simple reasons — he’s a phenomenal, graceful, exciting ballplayer, and he takes time to talk with them, sign an autograph, and pose for a photo. With 750 major leaguers, it’s remarkable that so few comprehend the profound influence they can have on young people in this way.