July 15, 2008

Morneau wins derby, but Hamilton deserves the buzz

As you probably already know, Justin Morneau won the Home Run Derby last night and did it in a booing Yankee Stadium which had fans screaming for Josh Hamilton to win it, after he belted a record-breaking 28 home runs in the first round.

That's not the only reason, fans at Yankee Stadium wanted Hamilton to win. Back in 2006, Justin Morneau "stole" the MVP award from Derek Jeter. Morneau beat Jeter by 14 points (320-306) for the honor, and despite both having very good numbers the award was given to Morneau probably in part to him leading his team from out of nowhere in the tough A.L. Central to win the division on the last day.

It was actually a shock to everyone throughout the league as a player from Minnesota beat out one of the best Yankees of all time for an award, especially this prestigious, despite having similar numbers. It was truly remarkable.

But I'm not blaming that for any reason as to why the fans chanted for Hamilton. Because Hamilton's heart-warming story is truly the reasoning behind not only the Yankee fans, but also all of baseball loving this guy. And although his 28 home runs played a big part of his love at Yankee Stadium, there's another reason why fans immediately were hoping he would've won regardless of who it was against.

In nearly two-and-a-half years, Hamilton has seen his life go from the lowest of lows, to now the highest of highs. The former 1st overall pick in the 1999 draft by the Rays was at one point out of professional baseball for nearly 4 seasons due to a drug addiction which almost got the best of him.

Finally in Fall of 2005, a confrontation with his grandmother made him quit both drugs and alcohol all together and he hasn't used since. He committed himself to getting clean and going back to what he loves doing most, playing baseball.

After being reinstated by MLB to play, Hamilton played in 15 games in 2006 before being chosen with the first overall pick of the 2006/2007 Rule V Draft. Taken originally by the Chicago Cubs, his rights were traded for $100,000 to the division rival Cincinnati Reds where he had to break camp with the team despite having only had a little over 20 AB's in anything over High-A ball which was all the way back in 2001.

He hit .350 with 4 home runs and 8 RBI in 40 at bats for the Reds in Spring Training and was kept on the 25-man roster as a 4th outfielder. But thanks to an injury to Ryan Freel, Hamilton got nearly 300 at bats and hit .292 with 19 home runs and had an OPS of .922, Hamilton established himself as a breakout player and his story started gaining more and more publicity as time has progressed.

In the off-season, he was traded by the Cincinnati Reds due to the fact that they had top prospect Jay Bruce on the cusp of the big leagues and they found a trading partner who could give them an up and coming pitcher to help their disastrous rotation. That player was pitcher Edison Volquez who despite having good numbers in the minors, was still trying to solidify himself as a major league starter. So it was really a win-win for both teams, the Rangers got an up-and-coming slugger after trading Mark Teixeira the previous season and the Reds got a good, yet inexperienced pitcher in return.

I don't expect either team knew what was going to happen after that trade happened. Volquez has established himself as one of the best pitchers in the National League and is currently in the thick of the NL Cy Young competition while Hamiltion has established himself as one of the best sluggers in the AL and is also in the thick of an award, the MVP award.

So in just about two years, Hamilton has gone from being kicked out of baseball due to his drug and alcohol addiction to being one of the best players in all of baseball. Words cannot describe how unbelievable of a story that is.

It is truly remarkable and his story has also garnered rumors of a potential movie being made, which looks to be likely at some point in the future. So if anyone is questioning the love Hamilton is receiving for coming in second place, remember his story.

Still, congrats to Justin Morneau. But I believe the true winner in all of this is Josh Hamilton.