Friday, February 03, 2012

NEWS FLASH: Josh Hamilton Is Human, After All

"I think he's got that tiger by the tail. If him and I could be together, it would be awesome because we get along so well. And if I thought that was the case that he would be in some sort of danger, I'd really reconsider."-Michael Dean Chadwick, Josh Hamilton's father-in-law, after declining the position of accountability partner for Hamilton. 

FEB 3rd, 2012-Addiction is a curious issue. 

Among all conditions which are classified as diseases or disorders, addiction is arguably the most controversial. Some folks don't consider it a disease at all, but a choice. Others would disagree, citing genetic markers as proof. 

Regardless of what you may think, the prevailing evidence suggests that it's a mix of both. There may be tendencies in the addict to drink or use drugs, but the decision to do so still lies with the individual. Some tendencies may be stronger than others. And many addicts manage to hide their addiction from friends and family; some even lead relatively normal lives in spite of drugs or alcohol. Most can, at the very least, keep their names and faces off of the front page, even if they're caught. 

Rangers CF Josh Hamilton, however, is not quite so lucky. 

According to Foul Territory, a sports blog written for the Dallas Star-Telegram:

"KTVT/Channel 11 reported Thursday that second baseman Ian Kinsler was seen with Hamilton at Sherlock’s Pub in North Dallas. A source, though, said that Kinsler went there only after receiving a call from Hamilton."

Also, from Drew Silva of NBC Sports' Hardball Talk:

UPDATE, 11:27 PM: Fraley has more details: The incident happened at Sherlock’s Pub & Grill in Dallas and Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler showed up at one point in an attempt to drag Hamilton home. Yikes.
UPDATE, 11:38 PM: From beat writer Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Sources say Ian Kinsler received a call from Josh Hamilton and went to bar out of concern.” Double yikes.
It would be hard for me to add anything to the hundreds of news articles and blog entries that have already sprung up on the Net about this incident, but I would like to mention one particular issue: Josh Hamilton is forever linked to the accidental, tragic death of a fan, Shannon Stone
Everyone knows the story: Hamilton throws a ball to Stone, a Brownwood area firefighter. Stone reaches for the ball and falls over a railing, twenty feet, to the concrete below. While he was conscious and responsive when EMS arrived, according to Oakland pitcher Brad Ziegler, who stated that he heard Stone say "please check on my son up there", he went into cardiac arrest and died in transit. 
This incident occurred less than a year after another fan (Tyler Morris; coincidentally, also a firefighter) fell 35 feet over a railing, suffering skull, foot and ankle fractures but ultimately surviving the fall. While Hamilton wasn't connected in any way with that accident, he was most certainly connected with Stone's fall, and I'm guessing he carries that with him every single day of his life. 
There's no question in my mind that Hamilton bears no responsibility in Stone's death, but do you really think that makes it any easier for him to cope with the memory of watching a man fall over a railing, one which was supposedly part of team president Nolan Ryan's "safety review" after the Morris incident, and ultimately die as a result of his injuries? Would it be any easier for you? For my own part, I can say that I'd NEVER be able to put that sort of memory out of my mind. I'm not even a drinker, and I'm guessing that a nightmare like that would drive me to it. 
Hamilton, on the other hand, is a recovering addict. There's a reason that the word "recovering" is consistently used in relation to the label "addict": it's because recovery is a day-by-day process, and it must be approached that way. It's a human disease, suffered by flawed human beings, and some days are easier than others. Most addicts don't have the pressure of potentially reliving standing by while another man suffers a mortal wound right in front of them, performing in front of tens of thousands of people 162 times a year (not counting the millions watching on TV or listening on radio), and having their every move scrutinized, criticized or condemned. Oh, and wondering if, while enduring this hurricane of emotion and the constant pressure that comes with it, they just might injure themselves in a way that could bring their career to a screeching halt. That, my friend, is quite a load to bear. 
Oh, and by the way...then he gets to pick that emotional scab by catching the first pitch of Game 1 of the ALCS, thrown by none other than Cooper Stone, son of the deceased. 
There is no doubt in my mind that Josh carries that burden, and for the most part, carries it well. He's an imperfect man, and like many Christians he's doing his best to reach perfection, something he knows he'll never come close to accomplishing. Sometimes, he's going to fail horribly. Monday night was one of those times. That shouldn't change how we look at him any more than how we look at our friends or family when they let us down. Regardless of how or why he was in that bar, he made a mistake: he relapsed. And it sure didn't take long for some writers to condemn him for what, as far as we know, is only the second time since his return to professional baseball that he's had anything to do with drugs or alcohol. Sadly, it is all but completely certain that this will affect the way many fans, as well as Rangers management, look at their star center fielder. But it shouldn't. It's a fact of life: some people would rather curse the darkness than light a candle. 
In the grand scheme of things, and when taken in comparison with what he's overcome in his journey through life, this is only one night, one failure. And that's all it should be. 
But when it comes down to it, I'm guessing that there will still be a large contingent of doubters out there who will be waiting on pins and needles for Josh Hamilton to show us once more just how human he is. From the looks of it, there's plenty to find regarding his previously (highly-publicized) relapse, and lots of people with a lot of time on their hands and a lot of venom on their keyboard. That's just sad. And frankly, pathetic. 
When it's all said and done, when the whole story finally comes to light, the end result could be costly. Not that he made such an egregious error in judgment, but that this one error could cost him more than just zeroes in his next contract. It could cost him the faith and understanding of thousands of fans, fans who may be too quick to take into account his flaws and his weaknesses because they're either unable or unwilling to see past his baseball ability. 
And that's the real shame of it. 

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Executive Interview: Chris Maxwell, GM, Bluefield Blue Jays (Short-Season, Appalachian League)

Jan 29th, 2012-In minor league baseball, being a general manager isn't so much about overseeing the day-to-day operations of your team as it is...well, being the day-to-day operations of your team. In the minors, a GM has a hand in every single part of team operations, from ticket sales to promotions to meal money for the players. Even painting the stadium. Painting. That's right.

See, being a general manager in the minors means you generally manage everything. Sure, you have a supporting cast, and they're every bit as important as you'd expect them to be, but in the end it all falls on you to be sure that all the little details (as well as the big ones) are covered. It's not glamour and fame, and in order to be truly good at what you do you really have to love the game. It's probably the most important requirement for the job.

Bluefield has a man that fits that description, and fits it well. After the Orioles pulled out of their commitment to their Appalachian League affiliate, to the surprise and shock of many, Toronto was ready and more than willing to fill the void. Chris Maxwell is running the show for the brand-new Blue Jays affiliate in the tiny mountain town, and he's had a hand in everything. Just as it should be.

The Orioles drew 1/3rd fewer fans in 2010 than they did in the previous season. What did you find was your greatest challenge in terms of bringing fans out to the park, especially given the issues that sometimes occur when a team pulls out of a city without warning?

I think the original fear was after 53 years could the town accept a new team. I think the shock that came with the Orioles leaving combined with the fact they had had several sub .500 seasons prior to leaving left a hole in a lot of fans hearts. The Blue Jays came in and embraced the town and the history here and the fans came out in droves to support us.

Given that each league and organization has their own way of doing business, have you noticed any significant differences in your time in the Appalachian League when compared with your experiences in the Pioneer League?

The big difference between the Pioneer league and the Appy league is just distance and size. The Appy league is much closer knit simply because we are no more than 3 hours from each other. In the Pionner league you have some 12 hour plus bus rides. The cities are larger in the Pionner league but a lot of the feel of the games are similiar.

Is there any one specific issue or complaint that you hear often from the fans regarding their experiences at the park?

I think we get just the usual type of complaints like the concession lines are too long that sort of thing. You just address them one by one and try to get better.

If you had the absolute, final say on all decisions in Toronto's organization for a day, what would you do with that authority?

Prince Fielder at first, Verlander, Lee, Halladay, Lincecum, Sabbathia rotation and one dollar beers.

Did you always see yourself becoming a part of the professional sports industry?

As a kid I was the worst player on every team I ever played on. I was a cruise director for 10 years before I even knew you could make a living in sports management. Sheer dumb luck and good fortune got me into minor league baseball.

What would you consider your most memorable moment in baseball?

My favorite moment was when I was a clubbie for the Birmingham Barons and we played in a yearly game called the Rickwood Classic. They play it at an old ballpark in downtown Birmingham. They have the old throwback uniforms and everything. The whole game just feels like its the 1920's. It really is something special.

Are there any players in Toronto's farm system who stand out in your mind?

Being new to the organization last year Im really only familiar with our guys but up and down the line the have some really exciting talent at every level.

What specific qualities do you consider most important for a player to possess while making his way up the chain?

I have never professed to know anything about coaching baseball but I always felt you couldn't succeed without listening skills and work ethic. You can have all the talent in the world and you won't get anywhere without it and if your not as talented it can get you too the next level.

What would you consider the most important lesson you've learned in your time in professional sports?

Honor and respect how others get things done. You will always learn something.

If you had one piece of advice for aspiring sports professionals, what would it be?

Learn to throw left handed.