After linking to other reviews and excerpts found on the web for a few weeks, I finally have the chance to post my own thoughts on Hamilton’s book. I received my copy yesterday, and finished reading it last night. I’m a rather voracious reader, especially when I have been looking forward to a book for a while.
The first good sign was the fact that I was compelled to stay up and read, when I was wiped out and really wanted to sleep. Beyond Belief is a well written book, maybe not in the way your university English professor liked writing, but in a way that encourages you to keep following the story until you know how it ends up. Or, even if you already know how it ends up. Basically – its a very easy book to read.
I mean ‘easy to read’ in a technical sense. Not as it relates to the subject matter. There are parts in the story that are absolutely cringe worthy. In one passage Hamilton describes the effect of copious cocaine use on his sinus tissues vividly enough to make me look away from the book, and wonder if I will ever be able to erase that mental image. This part of his story is not especially pretty. Its a great cautionary tale though. It removes the glamour that some TV shows and movies have given to drug use.
For me, there were two parts to the story. There were the glamourous baseball parts (both in high school and in the majors), and the harrowing drug addict parts. On their own, each is a compelling story, but the combination of the two is what really makes the title of the book so apt. As someone who is completely naive to drug use in any form, this really makes it clear to me just how low he was before he got himself back together. It kind of gives face to the ‘former drug addict’ tag that accompanies most stories about Hamilton these days.
The story of his comeback, both to a sober life and to baseball is no less compelling to read (albeit slightly less graphic than the drug scenes). Hamilton finds himself with nowhere to go except to his grandmother who always had time for him as a child. He shows up on her doorstep as a shadow of the world class ballplayer he once was, and she takes him in. She cooks for him, puts him to bed, and then walks to her own bedroom and cries over what her grandson has done to himself.
That is important to note – Hamilton does not attempt to shift the blame for anything that occurred. He says one of the reasons his many trips to rehab failed was because everyone tried to ‘blame’ what happened on someone – usually his parents. He is adamant that he made his choices, for better or worse. During those days when he was away from baseball, his decisions were almost unfailingly of the ‘worse’ variety.
His recovery was slow, and not immediate upon moving in with his grandmother. Even after seeing what he has done to her and the rest of his family, he still smokes crack in her house. As Hamilton wrote in a note to her when he left in an attempt restart his baseball career “…you showed me true love.” His recovery was slow, and came only after he decided to “humble himself before God” as it says in the Bible. He was haunted by vivid dreams, but still managed to stay clean.
The story about Hamilton’s return to baseball, and especially the major leagues provides a lighter counterpoint to the earlier, darker chapters. When he first heard he was taken in the Rule 5 draft, he was working for his brother clearing trees. He ended up doing press conferences on his cell phone while his brother gently harangued him in the background about neglecting his duties. His grandmother was not well enough to travel and see his MLB debut with the Reds, but as soon as she heard he was going to be in the majors – she bought the Extra Innings package so she could see his games.
Hamilton also uses the book to clear up a few misconceptions – although it was oft-repeated that he was a heroin addict – he never took heroin. And in the lead in to the MLB Home Run Derby at the All Star festivities, a representative from MLB called and said they needed to get a jersey made for his pitcher – and how did they spell his last name? Hamilton, never a good speller (he got out of writing a paper in his Grade 12 English class by signing a box of baseballs for his teacher) had to guesstimate on the spelling and came up with: C-O-U-N-S-I-L. ‘And that’s how Clay ended up pitching in the Home Run Derby with his last name mispelled on the jersey.’
Bottom line – its another in a long line of baseball books that are well worth a read. The baseball takes a back seat during the darker times of his life, but the first few chapters about baseball before his addictions, and the last few chapters about baseball after his addictions provide a nice set of bookends for the tale that comes in between. I highly recommend checking this one out.