Texas Rangers show off their classy side when the lights are brightest

Originally published October 22, 2010

People love to hear stories of trials and tribulations that lead to happy endings. Movies and television series have been based on these concepts forever.

And while everyone knows I love a good Lifetime movie storyline, they have been forever ruined by story of Josh Hamilton.

Drafted with the first overall pick in 1999 by the Tampa Bay Rays, who were then called the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Hamilton was widely considered one of baseball’s future stars, and Baseball America selected him as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball heading into 2001.

But two years into his pro career, he was involved in a car accident that kept him out of baseball.

During his time away from the game, he started drinking heavily and doing drugs. And after many attempts by the Rays to clean him up, he faced several suspensions by MLB and was out of the game in 2004.

He sobered himself up a year later and began to play baseball again in the Rays’ system.

In 2006, however, the Rule 5 Draft the Rays left him unprotected and the Chicago Cubs selected him on behalf of the Cincinnati Reds.

Flash-forward to 2010, and he’s on top of the game, patrolling centerfield for the Texas Rangers.

This season, Hamilton cruised to the AL batting title and led the Rangers to their first AL West crown since 1999.

But the most touching part of this story hasn’t been told yet.

After the Rangers’ clinched the division, they celebrated just like any other team would, with champagne showers in the clubhouse.

As a team, they caught flak because of Hamilton’s previous habits, even though he was busy doing interviews. He never even had a chance to be put in the precarious situation of deciding to celebrate with his teammates or stand true to his lifestyle choices.

Early on, athletes are taught  no one player means more than any other.  And theoretically that should be true, but realistically, it’s not.

Hamilton is a big part of the reason there are even champagne showers in the Rangers’ clubhouse. Instead of throwing a fit, he carried on his life and peacefully let his teammates bask in their accomplishments.

After a masterful performance by Cliff Lee, the Rangers clinched the first postseason series victory in team history and the scene in Texas’ clubhouse was almost the same as their previous celebration, except one minor detail.

The champagne was long gone and regular old harmless ginger ale was in its place. And even though Hamilton was once again consumed by his duties as a team leader and was in the middle of interviews, the thought was there.

In a day and age where athletes are believed to be thoughtless and inconsiderate to anyone but themselves, moments like this remind sports fans what these games can truly be.

It takes a lot of guts to give up on tradition, especially when these traditions aren’t celebrated often.

The best part of the story is how the Rangers reacted the second time around. By giving up the champagne, one of baseball’s youngest teams showed maturity beyond its years. And regardless of their accomplishments, the Rangers will always be regarded as winners in my eyes.

In the end, Hamilton, is the poster child for recovery. Not only has he beaten his demons, but he has come back to do what he was born to do and that is hit a baseball.

Most importantly, this Rangers’ squad has become the best example of team unity. They gave up on a baseball institution in the spirit of one for all and all for one.