The Texas Rangers won the American League West pennant Saturday in Oakland. Josh Hamilton, the sidelined MVP candidate who likely will come in second or third now, didn't join in the champagne- and beer-fueled celebration in the locker room. I applaud his decision.
There's no way it was easy for a baseball player to bypass the locker room and instead head to a church to share his faith. And had Hamilton not become an addict, he probably could have handled a celebration like that as well as any of his teammates. But he is in addict. A few days, months or years of sobriety don't change that.
Based on quotes he gave before and after the game, part of his motivation was perception. The pictures from his one-night relapse in early 2009 are still easy to find on the Internet. Unlike the pictures of Josh's jubilant teammates in the clubhouse celebration, the pictures of Josh in relapse aren't pretty. And for an addict to be amidst free-flowing booze and euphoria, that's likely where he would be headed.
It's dangerous enough for a recovering addict to be doing whatever he can, including some medication, if I understand correctly, to relieve the pain from his broken ribs and trying to rush his rehab. But bring in the exhilaration of a booze-filled celebration, coupled with what has to be frustration at not being a part of the stretch run, and you're just asking for big-time relapse.
As much as I like sports and I like "my team" to win, it means more to me to see the stories of perseverance and doing the right thing. I know all of the players and coaches and ownership are just people, not to be put on pedestals or anything. They're all human. But I like it when they make wise, healthy, uplifting decisions. I like it when their stories include winning in the game of life on and off the field. It's probably easier for some than others. And for whatever reason, at least one took some turns along the way that make it perhaps more of a challenge and at the same time more crucial to stay on the straight and narrow.
It's awesome from a sports perspective when the storybook season actually ends with the championship, but this one's already a winner. Even though the Rangers will end with a loss unless they win it all, they are winners. And Josh is a winner, even if he doesn't receive the MVP or make any spectacular plays in the post-season, as long as he keeps his focus on the One Whom he credits for his recovery, and that is his Savior, Jesus Christ.