BOSTON — The first thing you notice after Josh Hamilton's bat meets a baseball is the sound.
Not only does it go farther quicker, but the "thwack!" has a different "thwack!" than other hired guns like David Ortiz put on a baseball.
"It doesn't make the same kind of sound everyone else makes, does it?" said Texas Rangers bench coach Art Howe before Tuesday night's game. "The sound he makes is all his."
The Josh Hamilton Show (.304 average, 28 HRs, 80 runs, league-leading 112 RBIs heading into last night), which is as impressive as the Josh Hamilton Story (he was out of pro baseball for nearly two years due to drug addiction) is in Boston this week.
He lived up to the hype in a wild 19-17 loss Tuesday, going 2 for 5 with three runs and an RBI.
It comes to town nearly a month after Hamilton wowed the baseball world in the home run derby during the All-Star festivities. It wasn't simply the number of homers he hit in that first round, 28, but how far they went.
"He's got a lot of power," said Rangers designated hitter Milton Bradley, himself a 2008 All-Star. "He's got a lot of everything."
There is not enough room here to talk about what he's done, good and bad, and where he might be going with it some day.
Here is the Reader's Digest version:
He was the first player chosen in 1999 but soon things went sour. He took 2003 off for "personal reasons." In 2004 he was out of baseball because of suspensions related to drug use and attitude. By the time he returned to pro baseball with the Hudson Valley Renegades, he hadn't played in a game in nearly four years (July 10, 2002 to June 30, 2006).
When Tampa didn't protect him on its 40-man roster, he was acquired by the Chicago Cubs (Rule 5 draft), who later dealt his rights to the Cincinnati Reds for the 2007 season.
With red flags waving everywhere, the Reds were willing to take the chance. His .292 average, 19 homers and 49 RBIs over 90 games were the payoff.
The Rangers then decided to join the Hamilton lottery, trading one of their best young pitchers, Edinson Volquez, who was an All-Star this year, to the Reds for Hamilton.
Now, the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder might be the best player in baseball.
"You don't like to put that kind of pressure on somebody, but this is a special talent here," said Howe, who has been playing, managing or coaching at the pro level since 1971. "There is nothing he can't do."
One thing he can't do is get back the time lost, which is at least three years of major league service lost to stupidity, immaturity and addiction.
If you consider what he has done over his short 206-game career (.299, 47 HRs, 160 RBIs), the 27-year-old might have been to catch Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds in the major power categories.
"The best thing about Josh, and I told him this during spring training, is that if he didn't get another hit I would respect him for overcoming the things he has," said Bradley. "It's an amazing story. The fact that he is here doing what he is doing, staying clean, is an achievement."
Before last night's game Hamilton spent 30 minutes signing autographs, which has become a ritual. He also handed out four autographed bats and about 15 autographed baseballs to boys and girls before the game.
"You hope he doesn't wear himself out," said Howe. "But that's who Josh is. He's a nice guy, sometimes too nice of a guy."
Arlington, Texas, is a great place for the Josh Hamilton Show to start. He will have a few years in relative obscurity to begin to do things only a handful of players have been able to do.
Broadway will no doubt come calling some day. It always does.
But for now, though, enjoy the birth of a superstar.
You can e-mail Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hamilton leaves game to be with newborn daughter
Josh Hamilton was expected to miss tonight's game against the Red Sox after his wife gave birth to their third daughter. He left last night's 8-4 loss in the sixth inning to fly home to be with his wife, Katie. But "the last flight was at 9 o'clock," he said, so he planned to leave early today instead.