DURHAM, N.C. (AP) -When the Tampa Bay Devil Rays drafted Josh Hamilton with the top overall pick eight years ago, the North Carolina native assumed his path to the big leagues would pass through a stadium a short drive from his hometown.
He was right - just not at all as he expected.
Alcohol and drug addiction derailed the start of his career, and Hamilton never rose beyond Double-A ball in the Devil Rays' system. But on Friday, he was finally at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, home to Tampa Bay's Triple-A affiliate - as an opponent.
``I always wanted to play in it and lot of people have always wanted to see me play in it,'' he said of being in Durham. ``But like I said before, God works things out.''
ional League.
The Bats' next stop was Durham, about a 30-minute drive from Hamilton's hometown of Raleigh, where he starred at Athens Drive High School and became the No. 1 pick in 1999. That meant the 26-year-old has had the chance to visit with family and friends, who he said planned to come in bunches to see him play before he is eligible to return Monday to the Reds.
He was staying nearby, with his wife's family at their home in Cary, a suburb of Raleigh.
``I'm excited to see a lot of people,'' he said with a smile.
Hamilton's career took a detour when an addition to crack cocaine knocked him out of baseball for more than three years. He overcame his drug habit in October 2005 and eventually got his life straightened out, then turned his focus back to the sport.
The Reds acquired Hamilton through a Rule 5 draft trade, and Hamilton rewarded them with a solid April. He batted .266 with six home runs and 13 RBIs, earning a trophy that he put on his mantle as a constant reminder that he can play at the highest level.
Perhaps more importantly, Hamilton seems on the right path in his personal life. He spoke of talking with fans who tell him they have a family member or friend that has been through some of the same struggles he has, and he said he wants to use his success to ``inspire people and let them know that they can come back from anything, no matter how low they go.''
``Temptations are everywhere, not just on professional athletes but on people in everyday life,'' he said. ``It's all about the choices you make, the people you surround yourself with, making the right choices and waking up every day saying, 'I want to be a responsible person today.'
``I'm living for more people than myself. I want them to see me do good and I want to do my best for them.''
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