Hamilton Cleared To Return To Minors

Getting permission to play in minor-league games the rest of this season was a major development for Josh Hamilton.

The 1999 No. 1 overall pick, suspended since 2004 for multiple
violations of baseball’s drug policy, will join the Devil Rays’ Hudson
Valley affiliate in the short-season Class A NY-Penn League and is
expected to be in the lineup Monday night at Brooklyn.

It will be his first game since July 2002.

“I truly believe this is my last chance,” Hamilton said, “not
only in baseball but when it comes down to it, maybe in life.”

Hamilton last month was given permission to work out in the Rays’
extended spring training program and things went well enough that he
was granted additional privileges on Friday.

“I just hope he takes advantage of it,” said Rays hitting coach
Steve Henderson, who worked with Hamilton as the organization’s
minor-league hitting coordinator. “If he gets after it like I think
he’s going to, he’s going to be moving pretty quickly. That would be a
great story if it happens.”

Hamilton, 25, seemed a like sure-fire success story when the Rays
made him the first pick of the 1999 draft, a power-hitting,
flame-throwing outfielder with a knack for the game and a boyish charm.

But a series of injuries slowed his career and a sudden series of
drug problems stalled it. Hamilton, who says he has been clean since
October, will continue to be tested three times a week.

“I wouldn’t even want to have to imagine what it’s like to go
through what he’s already gone through,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
“I really believe he’s going to give a sincere effort to work his way
through this.”

Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman cautioned that
expectations shouldn’t be too high that Hamilton’s first games will be
akin to spring training.

As excited as Hamilton is by the opportunity, he said he will keep things in the right perspective.

“While I was waiting for this call, it reminded me I have to take
each day one day at a time,” Hamilton said. “If I don’t take one day
at a time I’d start projecting. I might end up where I was before. The
big picture might get too big, I guess you could say.

“If I take it one day at a time, one game at a time, one night at a time with my family, I think it will be okay.”