The way it starts, Ron Washington will see a sleeve, a flash of eye, a sliver of Josh Hamilton flit past the doorway of his office. This will be hours before game time, the Rangers manager talking with a coach, maybe a reporter. He'll keep chatting, but with antennae up now, waiting to see if Hamilton comes back.
Because the man lurks when it matters. Minutes will pass, and he'll drift again by the door, hover, and Washington will stop his conversation cold. "What's up, 'Bone?" Washington will call out, and if Hamilton steps in, Washington tells his guest to go. His All-Star outfielder doesn't rest much, when a day game follows a night, and it's when he's tired that his face grows paler, more lined, haunted. Hamilton is 31. When he lurks, he looks older. You can see all the mileage.
"Sometimes he can't sleep at night," Washington says. "This is when the demons start to come out of him, and he needs someone to talk to."
Both men know the cost of a bad hunger. Washington, at 57, nearly lost his job after testing positive for cocaine during the 2009 season; Hamilton famously lost five years of his career to booze, powder and crack. Together, they've put much of that behind them. The Rangers are coming off back-to-back World Series appearances and own the best record in the American League. Hamilton is having the dream season that baseball men, sure they had seen the next Mantle, predicted well over a decade ago.
Washington will shut his office door. They'll talk then about temptation, the game, people, what it means to be a man, with Hamilton flipping through his Bible for a relevant verse. "He finds it," Washington says with a snap of his fingers, "like that."
Washington is in his office now, hours before another game, door closed. You can hear no banter, no spikes clacking, nothing from the halls and clubhouse beyond. People have been asking him all season about Hamilton's heroics. The four home runs in Baltimore. The night he ravaged the centerfield wall running down a ball in Seattle. His sick at bat in the 13th inning against the Jays in steamy Arlington, Hamilton drained by respiratory and sinus infections, seeing stars, sucking oxygen between innings. He hit the walk-off homer, of course. That's the easy part. It's stillness that's hard.
"Sometimes it takes 20 minutes up in here, and sometimes we take a half an hour," Washington says. "Then he leaves, and I'm cleansed and he's cleansed."
If only it were that simple.
I'm convinced that Josh Hamilton IS God!
—Evan Longoria tweet, May 12, 2012