Justin Morneau was crowned the 2008 Home Run Derby Champion with a total of 22 homers. He hit 5 in the third round - the round that matters. I have to at least tip my hat to any member of the Minnesota Twins that can win my favorite slugging competition (as my earliest childhood baseball memories were cheering for the World Champs in the late 80s), however, nobody is talking about Justin Morneau.
A new hero emerged at the HRD with a phenomenal and record-breaking 28 home runs in the first round alone. That's right, he hit more HR's in round 1 than winner Morneau hit in all three rounds combined, and though 3 dingers in the third round declared that Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers walked away with second place, he was first in everyone's hearts. His power hitting was not the only thing that garnered him the respect of his peers, the admiration of the crowds and the talk of the town. Josh Hamilton had a much greater weapon in his arsenal than his bat: his story.
Certainly fans knew that Hamilton was not going to be the typical HRD slugger when his pitcher was introduced. We're used to BP coaches throwing for these things, or in the case of last year's outing by Matt Holliday, a friend or relative. Hamilton surprised many when his pitcher took the field - 71 year old Clay Council, Hamilton's high school coach. Not only was Council thrilled to be invited to the festivities and to pitch to Josh at Yankee Stadium, but the man threw 54 pitches in the first round - 28 of which were knocked out of the park! I was ensnared by Hamilton's excitement and charm when after his first slam the crowd went wild and he was heard to remark, "That was awesome, dude!"
Yet even this is not what earns Hamilton the all-too-rare status of role model. His story encompasses a much greater battle and includes a testimony that he openly shares about how he reached where he is today by hitting rock bottom and finding his way back to the top through a relationship with Jesus Christ. I can't even come near to describing his amazing life so I'll send you out to read it in his own words: "I'm proof that hope is never lost."
I loved how Hamilton unabashedly attributed his performance and his very life to the work of God and Jesus. It seems so rare and awkward when God can be worshiped and proclaimed outside of church but Josh Hamilton was able to share his testimony to a packed house at Yankee Stadium and an audience of millions. In that respect, there is nothing second-place about his finish and he will easily be remembered as the hero of the night. Thanks for the show, Josh, but even more, thanks for the story!
A new thing
6 months ago