There's no way for any of us to know how Josh Hamilton feels these days, but if you ask him he will do his best to let you know. That says a lot in itself.
The guy who might have the best idea about what swirls through Hamilton's head is Dodgers coach Manny Mota. It was Mota who had the misfortune to line a ball into the seats at Dodger Stadium in 1970, striking 14-year-old Alan Fish in the head. The teenager died four days later.
"I'm sad for Josh, because I know how he feels now," Mota has said. "He didn't do anything wrong, but I know this is a tough time for him. I felt the same way. I feel sad for Josh. He has to stay strong."
You can be sure Hamilton will stay strong.
Since tossing a ball into the stands in the second inning of a game July 7, the spontaneous, giving gesture that took a horrifically tragic turn when firefighter Shannon Stone fell to his death grabbing the ball for his 6-year-old son, Hamilton has thought a lot more about the fragile nature of life than baseball.
Yet no one was surprised when he blasted the fifth pitch he saw after the All-Star break for a 386-foot home run, his 12th of a season in which he had played only 55 games. After all, he stayed in that game a week ago Thursday, driving in four runs to help the Rangers beat the A's 6-0. And two days later he hit a game-winning home run off Andrew Bailey, turning a one-run deficit into a 7-6 victory. He entered Saturday 7-for-21 with eight RBIs in six games since Stone's fall.
This is a guy who can carry a load.
"I would agree that maybe I'm a little more prepared to handle a situation like this,'' said Hamilton, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player. "But still, that doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt and doesn't affect you."
Hamilton's story has been told often.
Some very experienced scouts say he was the most talented high school player they had ever seen, which is why he was the first pick overall in the 1999 draft. Yet he had problems relating to teammates, was miserable away from the field in the minor leagues and developed a drug addiction that almost cost him his career and his family.
He tapped into his spirituality in his recovery and has been willing to share his journey with others. It sometimes must seem like playing baseball is what he does in his spare time.
"My faith in the Lord and my relationship with Jesus Christ on a daily basis helps me handle life," Hamilton said while in Phoenix for the All-Star Game. "And this is life. There are tragedies, there are things that happen that you have no control over. And you don't understand them and will never understand them until you can understand them in front of your maker."
Mota also uses faith to help him cope with the Dodger Stadium death to which he contributed 41 years ago.
"What happened is something Josh could not have prevented," Mota told the Dallas Morning News. "My message to Josh is that he has to stay strong. It's going to be tough, but God has a plan for him."
What about the Rangers? Do they have a plan?
Hamilton has been a major bargain. An All-Star each of his four seasons in Arlington, he will have been paid a total of $14.45 million from the Rangers by the end of 2011. He will almost double that in 2012, earning a $13.75 million salary, and can be a free agent after next season.
Health always seems to be an issue, and Hamilton isn't adjusting his reckless playing style. He has missed one-third of games the last three seasons, and the Rangers' front office is trying to figure out how much it can trust him.
You can see why he's viewed as a risk. But he's a guy you would want next to you when times are tough.
Surprise, surprise: Working hard may be over-rated. Brewers GM Doug Melvin skipped the All-Star Game scene and was spending some quiet time at his weekend place in Chicago when the Francisco Rodriguez trade landed in his lap.
"I was going to walk over to Starbucks and got a call from (Mets GM Sandy Alderson)," Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Decided to take the phone call, and we worked at it. You always look at trying to improve your ballclub. If anything comes up, (I'll) listen."
Melvin wound up not only with Rodriguez but also about $5 million to pay the rest of his 2011 salary. He gave up two minor league players and made a smart deal to increase the amount of Rodriguez's 2012 buyout in exchange for him waiving his $17.5 million vesting option. That will save manager Ron Roenicke big headaches in September, as he can use Rodriguez and John Axford as he wants. Agent Scott Boras was open to the change because he wanted to put Rodriguez back on the free-agent market this winter, seeking a long-term contract.
The Brewers' hope is that Rodriguez will help them start winning on the road. They are on an 11-game trip that will take them to Arizona and San Francisco from Colorado and fell to 16-31 on the road with two straight losses in Colorado.
"We have to figure it out,'' Prince Fielder said. "I know we've been unbelievable at home. On the road, it hasn't been there."
Everywhere man: Martin Prado's versatility remains a huge plus for the Braves. He has served as a regular at second base, third base and left field the last two seasons, and with Chipper Jones recovering from knee surgery, he will be at third for the foreseeable future.
Prado homered Friday in his first game back after missing 31 games with a staph infection in his right calf.
"He's a good player, and he's going to make our team better," Jones said. "You need your class clowns. You also need your intensity guys, and he's one of our intensity guys, not to mention he's an All-Star. So it'll be almost like getting a free-agent pickup after the All-Star break."
Jones hopes to return for the Braves' series against the Pirates, which begins July 25. He last had his right knee scoped in 1996, missing only 16 days during that recovery.
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