Years later, Crawford and Hamilton reunited in same All-Star outfield
In 1999, Josh Hamilton was No. 1 overall pick by Tampa before derailed by drugs
That same year, the Rays drafted a speedy outfielder named Carl Crawford
Their careers have come full circle and now their starting for AL in All-Star game
We live in a world where dreams don't usually come true.
Oh, Disney World will have you thinking otherwise. If you wish upon a star, blah, blah, blah. But the truth is, dreams are hard. Dreams take work. Dreams take luck. A solid 99.9 percent of children who one day aspire to become president will never do so. A solid 99.8 percent of children who one day aspire to play major league baseball will never do so, either. It's the harsh reality of life.
Hence, when dreams actually do come true, we need to hold tight and cherish the moment. We need to appreciate what is taking place, especially when, at one point, that dream seemed impossible.
In 1999 the Tampa Bay Devil Rays had what they considered to be the best amateur draft in the brief history of the franchise. With the first overall pick, the Rays selected Josh Hamilton, a strapping outfielder out of Athens Drive High in Raleigh, N.C. Hamilton, according to scouts I spoke with at the time, was a prospect of A-Rod-esque gifts; an undeniable superstar with the makeup and abilities to carry a franchise into the 21st century.
"He has every tool we look for in a position player," Dan Jennings, Tampa's scouting director, said at the time. "The best thing is his intensity. He's shown us a true passion for the game. You don't always find that."
Then, with its second-round selection, the Rays grabbed a kid named Carl Crawford, a two-sport star from Jefferson Davis High in Houston who had accepted a scholarship to play football at Nebraska. Crawford's speed-strength combination had Tampa's scouting department shouting with glee. "He's a 17-year-old kid with unlimited potential and is a five-tool player," Jennings told the St. Petersburg Times. "He's been a football-baseball-basketball guy, and now this total commitment to baseball only can speed up his development."
This, the Devil Rays knew, was two-thirds of their outfield of the future.
This, the Devil Rays knew, was a dream come true.
This, well, this never happened.
The trials of Hamilton have been well documented. The drug abuses that led to repeated suspensions. The hallowed-out young man who showed up at his grandmother's house, begging for help. The relapses, the hopelessness. In the mid-2000s, when he simply vanished from baseball's radar, Hamilton was invisible. In Tampa's clubhouse, few spoke of him, few thought of him. His career was dead.
Crawford, however, held out hope. They initially become tight in 2000, as teammates with the Charleston RiverDogs. The two were a pair, and their journeys from top draft picks toward the majors were supposed to mirror one another. "Whenever he wanted to talk, I wanted to be there," Crawford once said. "I had seen how good he was those years in the minors. If I talked to him, I always gave him encouragement and tried to keep his confidence up. I told him we all knew how good he could still be."
So here we are, in 2010, and a dream has -- against every imaginable odd -- come true. On July 13 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., Crawford and Hamilton will, at long last, line up side-by-side as starters for the American League in the All-Star Game. They will merge toward center on high fly balls, joke during pitching moves, exchange high-fives and low-fives and middle-fives and -- without question -- a sincere appreciation for the moment.
As should we all.
Jeff Pearlman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.