'Structure' for Hamilton holds steady despite move
Recovering addict brings support system, faith to Southern California
ANAHEIM -- Josh Hamilton has read all about the potential dangers that lurk for him in this part of the country, which is mainly identified by a G-rated cartoon mouse but is also a 45-minute drive away -- depending on traffic -- from the glitz and bustle and temptations of Los Angeles.
Hamilton scoffs at it.
"If you want to get in trouble," Hamilton says, "it don't matter where you're at. If you're in Alaska, Hawaii, wherever you're at, if you make the choice to do something bad or wrong, you can do it. Period."
The 31-year-old outfielder, now more than seven years removed from a dark past that never quite feels so far away, has made it his daily mission to make the right choices. But for a man whose drug and alcohol addictions put him out of baseball for 3 1/2 years, no day is easy -- no matter how many of them he puts between his new life and his old one.
That's the main reason why Hamilton's market was so limited this offseason. It's why he settled for a five-year deal when players of his ability and stature -- like, say, Albert Pujols -- can garner 10. And it's why the Angels' $125 million pact with Hamilton is such a gamble.
It isn't because of the litany of injuries that limited him to an average of 129 games in his five-year stint with the Rangers, or even his arduous second-half slump this past season. It's because, in many ways, Hamilton's entire life -- on the field and at home -- is always hanging on by a thread.
One tiny slip-up, and all the progress he's made since getting clean in October 2005 can go to waste. That's why even his two relatively minor alcohol-related relapses, in January 2009 and 2012, aren't deemed minor at all.
And it's why the word "structure" is so important.
"Like anywhere, no matter where I was at, I need structure," Hamilton said at his Saturday news conference. "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. And during the season, having 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, and understanding what you need to do and how you need to take care of your body. But all that stuff applies no matter where I'm at."
Hamilton's support staff consists of his wife, Katie, his four daughters -- Julia, Sierra, Michaela and Stella -- and his accountability partner, Shayne Kelley.
The Angels' backloaded deal with Hamilton includes a full no-trade clause and no special language that would guard against a more-serious relapse. But the Halos are protected by Major League Baseball's Drug Policy, which doesn't pay players under suspension, and they're bringing in Kelley to be by Hamilton's side.
Mostly, though, they're taking a leap of faith.
"He's set himself up with a happy, stable home life and he's built a support group around him that continues to deliver," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "We're going to join that parade. We're bringing Josh into the Angels family and giving him the support he needs, and we believe he'll provide the same to us."
From 2007-11 -- from the time Hamilton made his triumphant return to baseball with the Reds, to his move to Texas, to the 2010 American League Most Valuable Player Award and elite-level status -- Johnny Narron was right by Hamilton's side.
Narron, now the Brewers' hitting coach, watched Hamilton grow up in North Carolina, lost touch with him when a sudden addiction to drugs and alcohol put him out of baseball from 2003-06, then rekindled his relationship when Hamilton finally resurfaced.
When Cincinnati picked Hamilton up off the Rule 5 Draft in December 2006, Narron's brother, then-Reds skipper Jerry Narron, brought him in to mentor Hamilton.
That sparked a five-year relationship that traveled to Texas and saw Narron serve as a father figure, friend, and in many ways, chaperone to Hamilton. He'd stay in adjacent hotel rooms on the road, monitor the amount of money he carried in his wallet, established a close bond with his family, prayed with him often and basically made himself available 24/7.
"He's working extremely hard to be the man, the husband, the father that the Lord wants him to be," said Narron, who admitted to getting "very emotional" while watching Hamilton's Saturday news conference on MLB Network.
"He's been through this before. This is going to be his seventh season in the Major Leagues. Josh and Katie have extremely strong faith. They've got that faith in place, they've got that support system in place. I would just tell everyone to support him, love him and be positive with him."
In February, a couple of months after Narron was hired away by the Brewers and a few days after Hamilton publicly apologized for his second relapse, Kelley took over that role in Texas, which he'll continue in Anaheim.
The best thing about Hamilton's support staff? It's very mobile.
"It's funny to me, listening to everybody report, 'His support system is in Texas. He's comfortable in Texas.' I was like, 'Here we go,'" Hamilton said. "I've talked about my support system -- with God, my wife, my kids, Shayne Kelley. Wherever I want to be, they're going to be."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.