Hamilton Gets OK To Return To Field

After spending more than two seasons on Major League Baseball’s
suspended list, Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder Josh Hamilton has been
granted eligibility to participate in extended spring training
beginning June 2.

Hamilton’s original plan was to continue to
work out and try to sign with an independent league club to hone his
skills before granting full eligibility from MLB, but the Devil Rays
intervened, with obviously much more at stake in their investment.

first overall pick in 1999 out of Athens Drive High in Raleigh, N.C.,
Hamilton’s career has been stymied by a series of drug problems. While
still ineligible for participation in any minor or major league games,
Hamilton’s forthcoming workouts will be his first professional baseball
activity since he went on the suspension list on February 18, 2004.
foremost thoughts are about how the Devil Rays organization can further
aid Josh in his continued recovery,” Rays executive vice president
Andrew Friedman said. “After discussions with Major League Baseball, it
was determined that a return to the field was an appropriate next
step.  We are fully supportive of Josh’™s efforts and are proud of
his recent accomplishments.”

Hamilton was thought to be a
generational talent before the 1999 draft, and certainly played the
part following it. In 1999, the outfielder hit .347/.385/.593 in 236 at
-bats in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. However, back problems
and personal issues began to slowly derail Hamilton’s career in 2000,
limiting his time in each of the next three seasons. He hit
.303/.359/.507 in 211 at-bats in the high Class A California League in
2002 and appeared to be back on track, but elbow and shoulder surgery
cut his season short and began what has been a saddening demise.

left the team during spring training in 2003 for what were deemed at
the time as undisclosed off-field problems. When he was suspended the
following February, it was the first time it was publicly revealed that
a drug problem was at the root of his absence.

His suspension in
February 2004 was for 30 days, but one month later, he was suspended
for a full-year for again violating the drug policy. Although he was
scheduled to be removed from the suspended list in March 2005, the
league quietly extended the suspension through that season because of
additional violations.

The 25-year-old sunk even further last
May when he was arrested in Cary, N.C. after a dispute with his wife in
which he smashed the rearview mirror and windshield of a friend’s
pickup truck. He has stayed out of the news since then.

reinstatement, however, is an indication that he has adhered to the
league’s drug policy. He will practice at the Devil Rays facility for
the next week to 10 days, at which point MLB officials will assess his
progress and possibly move to fully lift Hamilton’s suspension.

“He is in absolutely great shape and reports on his BP sessions have been
outstanding,” one Devil Rays official said. “He wanted to try to play
indy ball and slowly work himself back into games that way, but this
situation works out the best.

“We want Josh here and we want only the best for him. It’s going to be
a process, both through getting his full eligibilty back and to get him
back into true game condition, but the organization is dedicated to
that process.”

A press conference is scheduled for tomorrow morning at approximately 10:30 at which time Hamilton will address the media.

Chris Kline contributed to this report.