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Curtains to curtain calls
Tampa Bay's former top overall pick in the MLB draft rights himself in Cincinnati.
CINCINNATI -- Josh Hamilton's inspiring comeback story keeps getting better.
During spring training, the 25-year-old outfielder got attention for the way he overcame alcohol and drug addiction. It was a wonderful tale on the human level, one that made fans stand and cheer on opening day.
The curtain calls have kept coming, but for a different reason. Turns out that Hamilton can play a little baseball, too.
He did everything except hit for the cycle during the Cincinnati Reds' weekend series against Colorado, prompting pitcher Bronson Arroyo to dub him the team's MVP -- yes, more valuable than Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn and anyone else wearing red.
"This kid's something special," Reds outfielder Ryan Freel said. "It's just a matter of time before he's out there playing in the All-Star game, if not this year."
No one expected this so soon.
Certainly not the Rockies, who were front-and-center for his amazing two-day display over the weekend. He had two singles, a double and a triple, made a diving catch and stole a base in Saturday's game, missing the cycle by a home run.
He hit two of those on Sunday in Cincinnati's 9-3 win. He also made an over-the-shoulder catch and threw out a runner at third.
After only 21 starts, Hamilton has eight homers, 17 RBIs and a .306 average.
"He's played what, 16 or 17 games out of A ball?" Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "An impressive weekend. An impressive start. He was drafted in the first round, so it's not like he can't play."
People forgot that.
Hamilton was the first overall pick in the 1999 draft, a high school player so complete and so mesmerizing that Tampa Bay envisioned him as a building block for the franchise. Instead, his addiction to crack cocaine knocked him out of the game completely for more than three years.
He got off drugs in October 2005, got his life turned around and pointed himself back toward baseball. The Devil Rays basically gave up on him, and the Reds got him through a Rule 5 draft trade. The Reds figured he would need time to get back into form.
It didn't take him long.
Hamilton was the NL's rookie of the month for April, and is clearly the Reds' most complete player even though he had never faced major league pitching or played much above Class A before his addiction took over.
His talent didn't go to waste; it was just dormant. And now, it's center stage.
"That's why I'm here, the baseball," Hamilton said on Monday, before a game against Houston. "What happened in the past is the past. At the same time, it's something I can talk to people about and tell them about the things I went through and how I came through them. When you think you're beat, you really can come back from things.
"Now, it's good. I'm playing well and my skills are starting to sharpen up like they used to be, and I'm able to impress on the field instead of just impressing by coming back from where I was."
Everything about him has been impressive.
Hamilton makes sure to sign autographs after batting practice and is willing to share his story with fans who are also trying to beat addictions. He readily agrees to open up about his life, hoping that by sharing his story and his faith that he can make a difference in someone else's life.
What's happening on the field amazes even him.
With his parents in the ballpark watching, Hamilton hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning Sunday off Josh Fogg, going the opposite way with an outside fastball. When he went back to the outfield, a funny thought crossed his mind.
"It was weird," he said. "I was thinking in the outfield that it would be cool if I had a multihomer game."
In his next at-bat, reliever Tom Martin threw him an inside curve, something Hamilton didn't expect at all. It didn't matter. He pulled the pitch to right field for another homer.
"I don't know how to explain it," he said. "It's almost like I wasn't in my own body doing it. It was weird. It was just like in a blink of the eye, I saw a pitch, swung, hit it and I'm running around the bases. It happened so fast."
His exploits are fast gaining a following. Hamilton has become a fan favorite in only one month, getting more ovations than Griffey. Even players who give up his home runs are rooting for him.
"It's good to see a guy who has battled through adversity and been able to come back and do that," Fogg said. "I wish it wasn't against us, but it's good to see a guy that's been able to turn his life around like that."
Players from other teams have approached Hamilton to offer encouragement and congratulations.
"I just told him that I was proud of him and I'm happy for him, and just remember that it's a constant battle," Houston's Craig Biggio said Monday. "It's something you've always got to be aware of and working at. The lifestyle up here is not a very easy one."
So far, baseball has been a blessing.
"That's what keeps you coming back," Hamilton said. "That's what makes me love it so much, is days like this."