Josh Hamilton more popular than ever with fans

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It was five months ago that Josh Hamilton sat alone at a table in the interview room at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and apologized to his family, friends and fans for a relapse with alcohol during the offseason.

On Sunday, he was back at that table facing the cameras again. This time, he was thanking those same fans for voting him as a starter for the All-Star Game for a fifth time. And they voted in record numbers, punching his name on a paper ballot or clicking it on the web 11,073,744 times. That total shattered Jose Bautista’s 2011 record of 7,454,753 votes. Hamilton's story is one of the reasons he's so popular. It's clear that popularity is only growing.

"It's just a blessing, man," Hamilton said. "It just means a lot to have fans vote you in and get to that many votes is obviously pretty special, so I'm excited to go and I'm excited to play so people can watch."

Hamilton said he's worked off the field to be sure another relapse doesn't occur. On the field, he blistered the ball in April and May, winning consecutive player of the month honors. He was batting .319 with 25 homers and a league-high 73 RBIs heading into Sunday's game.

"We're in the business of entertaining people, so when people vote and they want to see me go to the game, it helps me think that I'm entertaining them pretty well," Hamiton said. "They might think are going to see something special at the game or whatever, whether it be me or other guys. That's what's so fun about it, because you don't know what you're going to do. It's about facing the best in the game, the best pitchers, that's just a fun time. There's no pressure. It's just a bigger stage for me to share Christ with obviously, that's my main goal. For people to still to vote me in knowing that's still my main goal, that says a lot about them and it's just a cool feeling."

It's Hamilton's fifth-straight appearance in the All-Star Game and he's been voted a starter by the fans all five years.

"It never gets old," Hamilton said. "I think the first time you're over-excited because you don't know what to expect. When you've done it more than once, you know how exhausting it is, but at the same time how appreciative you are to be there. It's just as exciting now as it was the first time."

Hamilton's first time was his most memorable. He participated in the Home Run Derby and captivated the country, mashing moon shots all over Yankee Stadium. It gave him a chance to share his story of fighting drug and alcohol addiction to get to the big leagues and how important his faith was in that process.

Hamilton said he'd like to participate in a Home Run Derby in the future, but doesn't want to risk anything right now. He said he doesn't think the Derby would impact his swing for the rest of the season, but with the club fighting for a postseason berth he doesn't want to take a chance on injury.

"It takes just one swing, one thing different in that swing to cause something to hurt," Hamilton said. "It's not fair to Rangers fans and the organization to take that chance."

Hamilton looked back at the past five months and said he utilized the relapse as a wake-up call.

"It always goes back to not doing the things I need to do to live my life how I should live it," Hamilton said.

He said after the first relapse -- just prior to spring training in 2009 -- he "kind of swept it under the rug."

"After this one, we wanted to figure out what it was," said Hamilton, who has been in counseling and has turned to his faith to help him figure out what he needs to do to avoid another relapse. "When things are good away from the field, I don't have to worry about things on the field, what's going to happen. What comes out is what's supposed to come out and I have peace about whether it's good or bad."

Hamilton said that despite struggling in June -- he had to make a late charge to finish the month batting over .200 -- he wasn't consumed by it.

"I haven't been stressed one bit this last month and I haven't really been hitting," Hamilton said. "It's not because I had good numbers already. As a competitor, you want to do all the time, but just going up there and knowing your team is getting the job done and we're winning ball games, and we're in first place, that's what it's all about."