During the All Star Home Run Derby this week, Josh Hamilton exploded in the first round with a derby record 28 home runs, making him the most inspirational sports story in years.
The former Sports Illustrated writer and current ESPN announcer Rick Reilly shocked millions by declaring, “It’s a lousy night to be an atheist.”
To take in the full scope of that statement, you should know a little about Josh Hamilton. Just a few years ago, he’d hit bottom. He described it this way:
Not that long ago, there were nights I went to sleep in strange places praying I wouldn’t wake up. After another night of bad decisions, I’d lie down with my heart speeding inside my chest like it was about to burst through the skin. My thinking was clouded, and my talent was one day closer to being totally wasted.
I prayed to be spared another day of guilt and depression and addiction. I couldn’t continue living the life of a crack addict, and I couldn’t stop, either. It was a horrible downward spiral that I had to pull out of, or die. I lay there — in a hot and dirty trailer in the North Carolina countryside, in a stranger’s house, in the cab of my pickup — and prayed the Lord would take me away from the nightmare my life had become. When I think of those terrible times, there’s one memory that stands out. I was walking down the double-yellow of a two-lane country highway outside Raleigh when I woke up out of a trance.
I was so out of it I had lost consciousness, but my body had kept going, down the middle of the road, cars whizzing by on either side. I had run out of gas on my way to a drug dealer’s house, and from there I left the truck and started walking. I had taken Klonopin, a prescription antianxiety drug, along with whatever else I was using at the time, and the combination had put me over the edge. It’s the perfect example of what I was: a dead man walking.
And now, as I stand on the green grass of a major league outfield or walk to the batter’s box with people cheering for me, I repeatedly ask myself one simple question: How did I get here from there?
Hamilton answers that question to anyone who will listen and he thanks God repeatedly, not for the home runs but for changing him and making him a better father, husband, and person.
I go to sleep every night with a clear mind and a clear conscience. Every day, I walk into an immaculate clubhouse with 10 TVs and all the food I can eat, a far cry from the rat-infested hellholes of my user past. I walk to my locker and change into a perfectly clean and pressed uniform that someone else hung up for me. I grab a bat and a glove and walk onto a beautifully manicured field to play a game for a living.
How am I here? I can only shrug and say, “It’s a God thing.” It’s the only possible explanation.
But through it all, his wife Katie always told him that one day he’d play baseball again. She told him God had a big plan for him.
She looks pretty smart, doesn’t she? I have a mission now. My mission is to be the ray of hope, the guy who stands out there on that beautiful field and owns up to his mistakes and lets people know it’s never completely hopeless, no matter how bad it seems at the time. I have a platform and a message, and now I go to bed at night, sober and happy, praying I can be a good messenger.
He says of himself, “I’m proof that hope is never lost.”
Faith, he regularly says, has put him back in baseball after years of hellish addiction. Hamilton tells his story to churches, youth groups, autograph seekers, and reporters. And when Hamilton hit 500 foot homeruns into the stands and Rick Reilly said, “It’s a lousy night to be an atheist” it was just one more way for Hamilton to spread his inspirational story.
July 17, 2008 at 4:51 am
This is a fantastic post! Thank you for posting it! God bless and keep up the great job on the site!
July 17, 2008 at 6:17 am
Now thats a real home run. And that part about the wife is just as fantastic.
July 17, 2008 at 4:28 pm
I almost fell out of my chair when I heard that comment. I only hope the network doesn’t get flak from some grumpy atheist because that was one extraordinarily accurate statement. I think one thing that I found interesting was how he hates the tattoos he has but has had to learn to live with them and now uses them as a reminder of where he was. Scratch must have been very angry that night…
July 17, 2008 at 6:59 pm
While it appears Bill’s comment may be gone, let me reply anyway. Yes, Bill, that “a crack-head baseball player got over his drug problem” is indeed evidence of a loving God. It is evidence because even in the face of all those horrors you mentioned God loves that one “idiot” enough to reach down, pick him up and help him to the life he was intended to live. That He did not wait until all the major problems have been resolved but was there holding out His hand the whole time is proof that God is loving.
God stands before each of us each day and tells us “I offer you peace, Truth and happiness but I will not force it on you.” That He allows us to chose war, lies and pain shows that He loves us enough to not take away our freedom. That, when someone like Mr. Hamilton finally turned around he found that God was still there, hand outstretched offering him that peace, Truth and happiness he could not give himself, yes, that’s evidence of a loving God.
July 17, 2008 at 9:30 pm
Myopia must be catching, Bill. You seem to have skipped over frival’s entire second paragraph. Hamilton responded to grace, freely offered as it is offered to all of us. This is from his own testimony, so it’s not simply making up things about God without evidence. His testimony is matched by many others who have escaped addiction as well. And I’d say that God loves Imus too, even if he’s doesn’t return the favor – although I’m not aware of anyone who’s thanked atheism for helping him lick his coke habits.
That is not evidence that God hated Len Bias, just because Bias died before he was aware of God’s help. You may as well say that the firemen hated a guy who died in a fire because he ran and hid in the crawlspace.
Speaking of which, there is an excellent Mike Weinreb article about Bias’ death and his mother’s work since then.
July 17, 2008 at 9:30 pm
This comment has been removed by the author.
July 17, 2008 at 10:03 pm
It’s never a lousy night to be an atheist. Reality is awesome!
July 17, 2008 at 11:20 pm
So Bill, you suggest Christians aren’t open to argument, eh? An argument was stated that the trajectory of Hamilton’s life is an indicator of a loving God. Your response is effectively “no it’s not” yet you make no effort, even in those comments deleted, to produce any correlative evidence but only point to cases where the existence of a loving God is harder to see but hardly disproved. That’s not an argument, it’s a statement. If you’d care to make a reasoned argument beyond “God doesn’t exist so this doesn’t point to the non-existent Him” then I’m sure we’d all be game.
And don’t forget, this is a blog which means every letter of conversation is at the sufferance of the blog maintainer. They’re under no obligation of rule, law or morality to allow us to go on here if they don’t want to. Such is the Internet.
July 18, 2008 at 12:21 am
Bill has a long history here. He has been rude to other commenters. He curses often. And he is uninterested in any dialogue. He is, therefore, unwelcome to comment.
July 18, 2008 at 4:55 pm
You have nothing more than the assertion “hey look he got better. God did it. You can’t disprove that!”
Again – not what was said. What was said, specifically, is that God offers grace to anyone, and that many who get better are those who are actively cooperating with that grace. Not a perfect one-to-one correlation, but enough to be a positive piece of evidence.
As for “that’s all we got,” there’s also the eyewitness testimony of the actual disciples who saw Him risen after His death (and His ascention), the testimony of the martyrs, the personal testimony of millions throughout history – people from every cultural, intellectual, economic, ethnic, and behavioral background. There have been genius saints and idiot saints, rich saints and poor saints, kings and monks, people raised in the faith from infancy and those who were its avowed enemies… There really doesn’t seem to be anything linking any of these people except their conviction that there was a God who called them. Upon investigation that God shows Himself to be remarkably durable. He’s outlasted and refuted every debunking so far.
Let me save you time and deal with two common objections:
1. “What about (Crusades, Inquisition, Galileo, pedohiles)!” – If they were disproofs, one would expect that they would have destroyed the faith; instead we see that faiths that are better behaved, but have not truth, are the ones that empty out and wither.
Of course, not all of them are so well-behaved as all that: sin is common to all. But nobody really cares as much (if at all) about non-Christian scandals; it suggests that the faith’s most strident critics aren’t really mad about the sinning, because then we’d expect them to be equally mad about murderous Communists, climate change doctrinaires, or pedohile school teachers. In fact it’s most likely that their problem is with the faith itself, and with a Church of people who know they are sinners but hope someday to be delivered. Not being free themselves, they don’t like to see other people’s liberation (so unfair!), especially people who are in some cases a good deal worse-behaved than they are.
Bringing us to 2. “You’re no different than any other religion!” No better, as we’ve seen. But different, certainly so. For one thing, Christianity endures, as we’ve seen. For another, the Catholic Church is one of the few that regularly condemns itself when it acts against the Lord’s will. All the other faiths (and especially the secular ones) excuse, but don’t repent. And the non-secular ones don’t even bother excusing – they approve of their mayhem against outsiders. The common thread in all of these false faiths is that ultimately the self is the greatest good. They wouldn’t need to excuse or approve otherwise.
The faithful are much more likely to be transformed (as Hamilton was)precisely because they are willing to admit that they need to improve, rather than make out that it wasn’t all that bad and others have done worse.
I suppose I should mention a third objection, then – “But the Church does justify the Crusades and the Inquisition!” Justify, no, but defend, yes. Admitting that we have gotten some things wrong is not carte blanche for others to then make extravagant false claims about everything else we’ve done. A pickpocket has every right to defend himself against a false charge of murder; and even a murderer has a right to defend himself against a false charge of pickpocketing. The faith’s enemies, as we’ve seen, really don’t interest themselves too much in the difference, and again as we’ve seen, it’s usually because they’re justifying themselves – excusing the pockets they’ve picked by trying to paint others as much worse, or else claiming that they have a perfect right to other people’s pockets and hating the faith for insisting otherwise.
July 20, 2008 at 4:15 am
Excellent post CMR and excellent comment nightfly, your minds are working wonders… God Bless.