ARLINGTON, Texas -- The man still has some catching up to do. Remember that whenever you see Josh Hamilton swing at a bad pitch or run into a wall or dive headlong into first base or, yes, miss a routine pop fly. Every act is a form of recompense. There is a grand ledger somewhere, the ultimate balance sheet, and it goes far beyond statistics of even the most advanced metric. The man is trying to put enough distance between joy and disappointment to carry past eternity.
He wants nothing more than to please. He wants you to remember something from the experience, whether it's a batting-practice homer or a pregame autograph or a sprint from first to third that ought to be impossible for a man his size. He knows the odds are against him: A big league hitter gets, on average, four at-bats a game, and he can't control how many strikes a pitcher throws him over the course of those at-bats, just as he can't determine whether or how the ball is hit to him in the field. Hamilton has to make the most of whatever comes his way. His personal history demands it.
The battle rages. Four at-bats a game is not enough to make a man like Hamilton eager to waste even one of them on a walk. Walks are, by definition, pedestrian. Swings are exciting; swings produce gargantuan homers and line drives wearing screaming cartoon faces and sometimes measly little ground balls that he can beat out just by running down the line like a crazy man. Is there any fan of the Texas Rangers -- or baseball in general -- who spends money on tickets and gas and parking and food in the hope of seeing Josh Hamilton take a pitch a couple of millimeters off the plate and jog dejectedly to first base?
No, so that one-handed, fooled-badly swing at the changeup that bounces in the right-handed batter's box is for everybody who roots for him or pays money to watch him play or stands in wide-eyed supplication asking for his autograph during batting practice. That swing is what happens when belief -- belief that he was given a gift he must not squander for one more millisecond -- overcomes reason.
"That's what I battle," Hamilton says. "I know they're not going to throw me strikes. If they do, they're going to give me one and then expand. Understanding that is very important, and I have plenty of guys behind me who can do the job."