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Yes, opposing fans will be screaming "Crackhead!" or "Have a drink on me" until the day Hamilton retires. But the general public's attitude has been markedly sympathetic—"shockingly so," says Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. Hamilton's jersey ranked fourth in nationwide sales in 2011, and kids, with their parents, still form up in long lines to meet him. After decades of secret pills, creams and injections, of finger-wagging denial and disgrace, there must be something refreshing about a player who admits it all.
"Josh owns up to it," says Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur, a former teammate. "You see a lot of people deal with personal issues, they hide behind it. Josh is very up front and people appreciate that. They know he's a real person."
Then Francoeur takes it a step further. "That's a guy I'd want all my kids growing up and saying, 'That's my role model,'" he says. "Do I want them doing the things he did early? No. But the way he goes about his faith, the way he's outspoken, it's good to see good things happen to good people. And Josh is a good guy."
That's another of Hamilton's great gifts. Everyone says so. Meet him once, and you'll forgive him just about anything.
It's the simplest of prayers, as old as the first mother. "God," Katie Hamilton begged over and over, "Just please protect my kids, please protect my kids, please...."
She and Josh have four daughters, ages nine months to 11 years. When, in early February, the story about her husband's latest relapse broke, complete with sniggering Web chatter, the thought of sending the girls to school alarmed Katie. What defense is there for playground nastiness? But in the middle of Please protect my ..., she heard another voice break in.
They're my kids, it said.
"Oh ... yes," Katie recalls thinking. "They are. They're His kids, and I just have to trust Him. He calmed my heart in that." Her children, she says, have yet to hear one cruel word on the matter.
Like Josh, Katie considers herself a born-again Christian with a one-on-one relationship with Jesus that involves a near-constant interior dialogue. For example, Hamilton claims the Holy Spirit told him, as he walked to the plate in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, that he would hit a home run. He did, a dramatic two-run shot that gave Texas the lead, but the Rangers ended up losing to the Cardinals in 11. "There was a period at the end of that," Hamilton explained after. "He didn't say, 'You're going to hit it and you're going to win.'"
Josh says he's been hearing the voice since he was about seven. "It's just like talking to a friend," he says. "But most of the time, when I stop talking is when I hear from Him. It's just the coolest thing that you can imagine."