Hamilton recounts drug use, hardships in new book 'Beyond Belief'

NEW YORK -- There were times when Josh Hamilton imagined playing alongside old Tampa Bay pals Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli in the World Series.

Like the devil's head inked on the crook of his left elbow -- one of his 26 tattoos -- those thoughts faded.

"That would've been a heck of an outfield. Carl, Rocco and me, running balls down, throwing guys out, hitting home runs," Hamilton said this week during a Manhattan visit. "It would've been awesome to play with them."

"It just wasn't in the cards," he said.

Then again, the Texas Rangers star already won a title with his former organization. Back in 1999, a few months after the 18-year-old Hamilton was picked No. 1 in the draft, he helped the Class A Hudson Valley Renegades win the New York-Penn League crown.

His championship ring from that season? Gone. He pawned it to buy cocaine.

It's all part of Hamilton's life story, chronicled in his new book "Beyond Belief." In 256 pages, he presents his path from schoolboy star to crackhead to discovering God to Home Run Derby slugger.

He spares no detail -- wearing a wire for the Drug Enforcement Administration, blacking out in a trailer park with shady characters, eight trips to treatment and rehab centers, spitting up crack soot.

Hamilton writes of wasting $100,000 on drugs in six weeks, his life in North Carolina reduced to finding that next fix. He also identifies who caused a near-death spiral that delayed his debut in the major leagues: It was totally, 100 percent his fault.

"People just respond to honesty better. I mean, you can straight up tell if somebody is lying," Hamilton said.

His wife, Katie, said she learned things about him from reading it. She was the one, though, who told Hamilton during his addled existence: "God was going to allow me to get back to baseball, but it wasn't going to be about baseball."

"I tell people: Could I have reached people being the clean-cut kid coming out of high school? Probably so. How many more people can I reach having tattoos, having an addiction problem?" he said.

His story seems to be resonating.

On the day of Hamilton's interview with The Associated Press, a man walked out of an office-building elevator, recognized the ballplayer, shook his hand, gave him a hug and wished him well.

The same day, Dallas Cowboys consultant Calvin Hill, who works with troubled players, carried a copy of Hamilton's book outside the team's locker room.

Totally out of baseball for three years while serving suspensions and getting clean, Hamilton reached the majors in 2007 with Cincinnati. Traded to Texas last December for pitcher Edinson Volquez, Hamilton fulfilled his promise this year at age 27.

Hamilton led the AL with 130 RBIs, and hit .304 with 32 home runs. He played a full season for the first time, highlighted by his show during the All-Star Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium when he connected on 13 straight swings.

He acknowledges the daily grind in center field took a toll. It showed, as his second-half numbers dipped.

"I'd lie to you if I said I didn't feel run down," he said. "Who plays 156 of 162 games and doesn't feel run down?"

Doctors have told Hamilton his drug history compromised his immune system. This year, he remained healthy.

This week, Hamilton rooted for the Rays in the AL championship series. Tampa Bay left him off its roster after 2006, letting any team draft him, and he wound up in Cincinnati.

He saw some former teammates in August when Texas played Tampa Bay.

"I'd go up to them and tell them how happy I was for them," he said. "I told them to go all the way, get it done. And they might do it."

One thing this former Devil Ray won't do: remove any of his two dozen-plus tattoos.

Hamilton's body is covered with flames, demons, devils, crosses, the face of Jesus. Some markings, he's not even sure what they mean. A few years ago, as Hamilton's life began to move forward, he tried to put his trail in the past.

But those laser and burn treatments caused scarring and only lightened the ink by a shade or two -- in fact, he had a couple restored because they looked worse. He then decided they're on for good.

"Imagine how it hurts going on and times it by about 10 coming off," he said. "They're part of the story. It's a chapter in the book."