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Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Accountability key for Josh Hamilton

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

GARLAND, Texas -- While Nolan Ryan, Jon Daniels and Ron Washington figure out whether to get a deal done with Mark Buehrle, re-sign C.J. Wilson or trade for a stud reliever such as Andrew Bailey at this week's winter meetings, they better set aside some time to ponder Josh Hamilton's situation.

Most of you never noticed Johnny Narron, the balding, bow-legged coach wearing No. 13 on his back, but finding a suitable replacement for him is every bit as important as the Texas Rangers finding a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Maybe more.

Josh Hamilton is a recovering addict in a battle that never ever ends, and Narron, Hamilton's friend of more than 20 years, was his accountability partner until the Milwaukee Brewers hired him last week to be their hitting coach.

Josh Hamilton and Johnny Narron
Johnny Narron was Josh Hamilton's accountability partner until the Milwaukee Brewers hired him last week to be their hitting coach.
Hamilton is a 30-year-old man with a wife and four kids. Ultimately, he's responsible for his own actions.

But anyone who has ever been an addict or alcoholic, or had an addict or alcoholic in their immediate family, knows staying clean requires more than good intentions or catchy slogans like, "Just say no."

Narron helped keep Hamilton's mind right when he was in a slump. Or a funk.

He was the guy in the adjoining hotel room on the road that Hamilton could talk to when the slugger wanted to discuss God's plan for his life at 2 a.m. Or when the devil urged Hamilton to take a drink or use drugs.

Although they could discuss scripture and pray together, Hamilton and Narron shared a friendship that went beyond his addiction. And baseball. They forged a bond that can't be replicated.

If the Rangers are smart, and they are, they won't even try.

After all, they just can't hire someone -- even if Hamilton approves the person -- and tell Hamilton, "Here's your new accountability partner."

It doesn't work that way.

Hamilton said he's discussed the situation with the Rangers, and they're working together to put a plan in place. Still, this is the first time since Hamilton became a big leaguer that he and Narron won't share a clubhouse.

"I called him and said, 'You've helped me and been there for me when I needed you. You've helped me grow as a man and a player, and I really appreciate you and everything you've done for me and my family," Hamilton said before speaking to a group of kids at a free hitting exhibition presented by MLB Network's Harold Reynolds at The Special Events Center in Garland, Texas.

"For Johnny to go somewhere else, I have no problems with that. I really didn't think twice about it when JD [Jon Daniels] called me and told me about it."

The good news for the Rangers and Hamilton is that he's never been more prepared to handle life as a recovering addict.

He's gone through a public relapse, and he's created barriers -- he doesn't carry money or credit cards and Narron accompanied him to and from the ballpark -- designed to protect him from temptation.

He mentally survived last July's tragedy, when Brownwood's Shannon Stone tumbled over the left field wall at The Ballpark in Arlington and sustained injuries that eventually resulted in his death after trying to catch a ball Hamilton tossed him at the end of an inning.

Hamilton has a tight circle of friends and pastors he leans on, when he needs to hear a soothing voice or discuss an issue.

"I don't feel like I need somebody, but at the same time if it adds confidence in me with the Rangers or Major League Baseball or the fans or whoever to have somebody, then I'm all for it," said Hamilton, who's drug-tested three times a week.

"Obviously, I've had setbacks in the past. If you learn from the setbacks, then you're moving in the right direction and not going backwards. I don't ever get comfortable where I'm at.

"I always like to keep those safeguards up and surround myself with people who want to see me succeed and do well. I've got a lot of guys on this team who want to see me do those things."

One of those guys is David Murphy, the Rangers' fourth outfielder and Hamilton's closest friend on the team.

They attended Tuesday's event together.

"The safeguards I have in place with money and being with someone to and from the ballpark, he's the first guy I bring up, " Hamilton said of Murphy.

"I've talked about it with the Rangers. We've hit on different people and we're still going around with some ideas. The ultimate decision is going to be between me and the Rangers."

When it's finalized, it'll be among the most important moves of the offseason.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.