With small crowds Hamilton can hear every taunt leveled at him about his kids, his grandma, his wife, his drugs. For five years, he felt them dig under his skin. "You just got to stand there and wear it," he says. In April, though, Hamilton was standing in leftfield in Minneapolis during a game, worrying it again, when the Holy Spirit asked him a question. What did Christ do to those who persecuted him?
"And I said, 'Well, he prayed for 'em,'" Hamilton says. "And it just changed the way I looked at all of it. I did a 180 flip."
That's why now, if you watch out in the field, you'll sometimes see Hamilton's lips moving between pitches. He heard what you said. He's praying that you'll get better soon.
Addiction, like talent, is a mystery. The parents, wives, friends and children of users can spend a lifetime obsessing about the disaster in their midst, its cause and effect, and even if all concede chemical dependence, you'll still hear debates about the choices made. Hamilton's struggle these days seems to be mostly with alcohol; there's never been a positive result on his thrice-weekly drug tests. But his last two relapses were also jarringly social. He didn't buy a bottle and slip alone into some basement. Both times, before any booze entered his bloodstream, he found places with music, noise, people laughing. He went to find a party.
Part of Hamilton's mystery is a sense that being cheered 81 nights a year by 40,000 devotees isn't enough of a thrill. "There's this side of Josh that's like just anybody else: What am I missing out on?" Roy Silver says. "But those days are gone. There're certain things I did when I was 20 that I'm not doing at 49."
But the barroom drunk turns back time. For a few hours, liquor can make the four kids at home, the errands, the everyday grind that can make life seem small fade away. Doesn't liquor make you feel funnier, make people like you more, make even a ordinary dull night feel huge? Sure, you can say or do something stupid; sometimes you swing and go Aggghhh. But everyone's so happy. And what with cellphone cameras and the Web, humiliation is all but assured.
"I want to get caught," Hamilton says. "Because I don't want to do it. I know it's not good for me; I know I don't act the way I'm supposed to act [when drinking]. There's nothing good that comes from it. Obviously I don't ever want to get to that point again. And I want the red flashing light to go off before it comes close to that point of happening. So it's a blessing in disguise that I was out in the middle of everybody."
Katie wasn't at Josh's side for his apology press conference in February. Unlike the aftermath of his previous relapse in '09, she felt it was time to do more than just react. "It was so bizarre, and nothing about it made any sense," she says. "So we knew: There is something that we have missed. We have not gotten down to the core."
Within days of Josh's January's binge, the Rangers finished their search for a new accountability partner—Shayne Kelley, a former football chaplain at Alabama, on the recommendation of Hamilton's agent, Mike Moye. The Hamiltons leaned heavily on a network of older mentors like their pastor, Robert Morris, of Gateway Church near their home, and the televangelist James Robison, who says that the couple's "zeal for God, their childlike teachability, blesses me." Josh also began counseling sessions, alone and with Katie, and took up intensive study at Gateway in its Freedom Ministry program.
"And in less than a week I was looking at a completely different man—and I still am," Katie says. "There's work to be done, but the fruit that has come from it has overwhelmed me. It has been so good, and I'm so thankful that God gave me the grace and patience to stick around.