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Hamilton in area in latest try at reform
The ex-Rays phenom works at a Clearwater academy and is doing well, a co-owner says.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published February 7, 2006
CLEARWATER - One-time top prospect Josh Hamilton is still a long way from playing for the Devil Rays at Tropicana Field.
But, geographically at least, he is getting closer.
Hamilton, suspended since spring 2003 for repeated violations of baseball's drug policy, has been working and working out at a Clearwater baseball academy and trying, once again, to straighten out his troubled life.
"He's on the right track," said Roy Silver, co-owner of the Winning Inning academy based at Jack Russell Stadium. "He's doing good and he's comfortable. He needs to stay that way. ... The biggest thing from my end is that he's doing it on his own."
Hamilton, 24, has suggested previously that he has had made progress but told the Times in December he has had numerous relapses since his original suspension, which now has been extended through the 2006 season.
He also said then he felt his best chance at recovery would come if he could get involved with the game, with some supervision. Silver, a former Rays and Cardinals minor-league coach and manager who had met Hamilton a few times, read the article, got Hamilton's number from a mutual friend and invited him down from his North Carolina home.
"He was excited about getting out on a baseball field," Silver said. "Out of friendship and of fellowship, we're here. ... We're here for each other. ... I love having him around."
Silver said the rightfielder, who has been in Clearwater about two weeks, does assorted chores around the complex "just being another one" of the employees. Monday, Hamilton, who received a $4-million bonus, was picking up batting equipment used in an earlier workout, then running errands. (Hamilton, Silver said, did not want to be interviewed.)
He also gets to work out, and, according to Silver, it doesn't look as if the time away or off-field problems have eroded the talents that made Hamilton the No.1 pick in the 1999 draft, or tempered his desire for the game, which in the past Hamilton admitted had wavered.
"Baseball is still in his blood, and he loves it," Silver said. "And he's a pleasure to work with. ... All of my employees here, we have the same heart. We're developing quality players from the inside out."
Silver said Hamilton for now will split time between North Carolina, where he has a wife and two children, and with his new "baseball family" in Clearwater. "He's taking good care of himself and he has balance in his life," Silver said.
Hamilton, who eventually will have to apply to the commissioner's office for reinstatement, said Dec.1 he had been clean for six weeks. Silver said Monday he believes that is still the case and that Hamilton, over time, can make it back.
"I think every soul has the potential to have a happy ending," Silver said. "There's no other way for me to live."
COMEBACK KID?: Outfielder Danny Bautista, who mysteriously retired during last spring training rather than play for the Rays, worked out for Texas officials in the Dominican Republic and told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he wants to play for the Rangers.
Bautista walked away from a $1.9-million contract with the Rays, claiming a series of injuries left him unable to play at a top level. The Rays no longer have rights to him.