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On Sept. 30, Hamilton caught for Cooper when he made the ceremonial first pitch of the Rangers' postseason run, and he lingered longer than any Texas player when Cooper and his mom, Jenny, returned in April for the dedication of a statue of Shannon and Cooper outside The Ballpark in Arlington.
Now Cooper's grandmother had come to show him a photo of that day. Hamilton stared at it and nodded and smiled, then used a pen to scribble something that took far longer than an autograph. They glanced at each other when he was done, then she walked back up the steps. He turned back to the ballfield, trying to keep another moment of ruin behind him. A dozen fans, cameras at the ready, stood waiting.
Some have speculated that his random part in Stone's death, the horror caused by a kind gesture, somehow spurred Hamilton's relapse in January. "No, no, no," he says. "It was tough for the first three, four days, because I didn't understand how something so innocent could go so bad. But I couldn't live there. I prayed a lot about it, more for the family than I did for God to relieve me of anything. Feeling condemnation and guilt and things like that—it doesn't come from God."
That he can distance himself is to the good. Hamilton has much to feel guilty about, and it's only healthy that his God can make him feel better about this one lightning bolt. Indeed, he has been granted a freer pass than most born-agains in the secular world, if only because addiction is so common and he's used his faith to condemn only himself. Besides, if this is the rope that he says pulled him out of the hole, who's really going to argue?
Still, type in Hamilton's name on the Web and it won't take long to find someone declaring him a fraud. That comes with the territory, but the venom has spiked since he declared in spring training, on the eve of his walk year, "I don't feel like I owe the Rangers." His repeated statements that God will end up dictating where he plays next season make it easy to wonder if the Texas brass need worry more about Jehovah than Brian Cashman. But, actually, Hamilton's camp couldn't be more hard-eyed.
"Fans and reporters are so far off base with where we are," Katie says. "They'll say, 'Oh, Josh doesn't care about the money.' No, we don't really care about the money so much for us, but we have huge plans for this money and, no, it's not strictly for our bank account. It is for a hurting world. The other thing they keep saying is, 'Josh needs Texas; he needs the comfort of this team.' Uh, we need Jesus. We need God. He goes with us wherever we are. Yes, we're comfortable in Texas. But maybe God hasn't called us to comfort. I mean, he didn't call Jesus to comfort."
The couple say that this is what January's relapse changed most. Josh and Katie have had a foundation, Triple Play Ministries, since 2008; they've built an orphanage in Uganda and given funds for relief in Haiti. But Hamilton's immersion in his faith since has charged him to help on a far broader scale.
Hamilton's injury history—not to mention uncertainty over how long his system, compromised by years of drug use, will hold up—make his worth harder than most to gauge. Long-term contracts for players in their 30s are inherently risky, and it's possible that Hamilton's body will get old faster than most. But no one would be stunned to see him fielding an offer worth anywhere from $175 million to $200 million next winter. And Hamilton hardly seems interested in giving Texas any kind of discount. He wants whatever the market will bear.
"It's more the giving away part," he says. "That's in the forefront of any kind of thought we have about our next contract. The bigger it is, the more we can give away. It's cool to think about all the different ways you can help people by playing baseball. Who couldn't live on a million, two million, three million?"
Whether he means for a year or a lifetime, Hamilton won't say. But call it payback or penance: This coming contract is a key reason, he feels, for why he was saved years ago. The whole Josh Hamilton thing was meant to serve as an example, a symbol to the masses of what faith can achieve. And he was meant to use his riches in ways that will be unveiled as soon as he signs on the dotted line.