ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Carl Crawford was asked if he ever thinks about what might have been. What might have been if Josh Hamilton's life had never veered from baseball and he had fulfilled his potential with the team that drafted him No. 1 in 1999.
"We think about that all the time," Crawford said. "Me, him and Rocco Baldelli. That was supposed to be the outfield. We just think how great that outfield could have been and then what kind of numbers we could have been putting up and how many championships we probably could have won. It was just one of those things where we didn’t get to see it, but we think about it all the time."
Everyone knows what happened to Hamilton, how he nearly threw away his career in a swirl of drugs and alcohol, and how a terrific player almost never was.
"It’s amazing that he was able to go through the stuff that he did and still come back and be arguably the best player in the game," Crawford said. "I didn’t know he could come back from such a tough situation like that, but I’m definitely happy for him. We were real close in the minor leagues."
Hamilton last wore a uniform in the Rays organization in 2006 with the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League where he won a championship in his first year as a pro in '99.
"I remember the things that you guys see right now," Crawford said. "He was just an unbelievable athlete, had a great talent and I had a chance to see it every day at a young age, when we were 17 years old. That’s what I remember."
Hamilton's road to the Texas Rangers went like this: Drafted by the Chicago Cubs from Tampa Bay in the 2006 rule 5 draft on Dec. 7; purchased by the Cincinnati Reds from the Chicago Cubs on that same day; two years later traded by the Reds to the Rangers for Danny Herrera and Edinson Volquez.
As Hamilton has now come full circle -- the 2010 American League batting champ and a leading MVP candidate playing against the team that drafted him in the playoffs -- he said he, too, thinks about what might have been in Tampa.
"It would have been a pretty disgusting outfield. It would have been sick. You probably would have had to hit it over the fence for a ball to drop in, really. So you think about that," Hamilton said. "But I mean, that's what's so hard to predict, like when you're scouting and you're predicting and projecting players. I mean, that's what's so difficult about it, because you don't know what's going to happen. You don't know what life is going to throw at them or injuries or anything like that. So when you project things like that, that's exactly what it is, a projection, because a lot of times it doesn't end up that way. But to think about it, it would have been a pretty good one."