FORT WORTH, Texas -- The American League MVP, his wife and three daughters woke this morning to a new Christmas tradition.
Mom and Dad were to give their girls only one gift each. They would all hop in a car and head to a homeless shelter later in the day to visit with those who would be lucky to receive anything at all.
The significance of Saturday's holiday is to celebrate the birth of a man who would make the ultimate sacrifice for others. Josh and Katie Hamilton's goal is to teach their daughters that Christmas isn't about receiving a bounty of presents underneath a decorated tree.
"We just want to let them know the true spirit of what Christmas is as far as giving," Josh said. "God gave his son for us, and we can never do anything to repay him for that. But it taught us to give to others and to love others, and that's what the spirit is about."
His daughters, ages 9, 5 and 2, also don't fully understand their dad's relationship with Jesus Christ. They don't know the journey Hamilton has taken to become the best baseball player on the planet, as he was this year for the Texas Rangers.
Many believed he would have reached his 2010 heights years earlier, but addictions to drugs and alcohol derailed his career and put him on the path to an early grave.
After years of abuse, Hamilton found himself on his grandmother's doorstep in October 2005, seeking help. He took to the Bible while sobering up, and committed his life to glorifying his lord and savior.
Hamilton does that through baseball, doing incredible things with the supreme talents he was given and then telling as many people as possible about his journey.
Each of the five Christmas holidays since he surrendered to Christ and a sixth sober Christmas today have reinforced what Dec. 25 means to Hamilton.
"Christmas is about Christ being born, and not just about him being born but what he was going to do and what he was going to fulfill," Hamilton said. "It's pretty special."
Spreading the word
The message Hamilton wants folks to hear this time of year can be found while shopping at the mall or listening to the radio while driving there and searching for a parking spot.
Many of the popular Christmas carols tell the story of what Christmas should be about, Hamilton said. One of the best, and one of his favorites, is "Hark the Herald Angels Sing".
"If you look at the words and do what you're told, it says everything there is to say about God and about Christ," he said. "You've got to look at it not just as songs that everybody sings. You've got to focus on the meaning of the words and what the songs are all about."
By now, Rangers fans know that Hamilton certainly isn't shy about his faith and his walk with Christ. He feels it's his ?duty to tell his story in public forums, which he does ?many times throughout a given year.
He even did so in the stands of a near-empty Oakland Coliseum in late September as his teammates celebrated the Rangers' first AL West crown since 1999 in the visitor's clubhouse.
The media presents the best vehicle for Hamilton to spread the word. He did so on ESPN during his remarkable performance in 2008 during the Home Run Derby, and he did so again on TBS in October while accepting the MVP award for the AL Championship Series. A month later, he was back on ESPN chronicling his journey after being named the AL MVP.
"My platform got even bigger," he said.
But Hamilton never saw the initial interview in replays that day. Everything he had said about his faith was cut, either for time considerations or maybe for political correctness.
Hamilton, though, was only mildly bothered by the omission. He still says "Merry Christmas," and he won't be deterred when he sees an opening to give thanks to his Savior.
"It's all throughout the Bible, people being persecuted in Christ's name," he said. "That's the way it's always going to be. Some people won't understand it.
"The people who will be watching who need to hear it, will hear it."
Part of the team
The Rangers welcomed Hamilton and all his faults with open arms for his first spring training with them in 2008. He and his faith weren't always so welcome in the Cincinnati clubhouse during his rookie season in 2007.
But Hamilton has never browbeat his teammates about their faith. He doesn't chide them when they enjoy a drink in his company or take the Lord's name in vain.
Those things happen often during a 162-game season and a 16-game playoff run.
"If people want to talk about it, he will," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "He knows that he still has more to learn about it and more room to grow. He doesn't know everything, but he knows more about it than most people in the clubhouse."
Hamilton also knows he isn't perfect. A misstep in Arizona two years ago reminded him that he can't live without a prayer routine each day to beat his addictions.
Temptation is within reach. Beer is available in the clubhouse, on the bus and on the charter flights. His teammates are mindful of his past, but they don't worry about Hamilton suffering a relapse.
"We're going to be there to support him," Kinsler said. "We know his past, but it's not something we're going to dwell on. He takes care of himself. He's a grown man. He knows the things that tempt him, and he stays away from them."
The Rangers have accepted Hamilton for what he is, a recovering addict and alcoholic who just happens to be a supreme baseball talent and their teammate.
That was never more evident than after the Rangers beat Tampa Bay in the AL Division Series and New York in the ALCS. Bottles of champagne and cans of beer waited in the clubhouse, but no one celebrated with that stuff until they popped ginger ale with Hamilton.
"After everything that went on this year, it made me feel great," he said. "It shows a lot about their character as men, as my teammates, as human beings, for them being sensitive to my situation."
Plenty to give back
Few things in baseball are as sensitive as money. Just revisit the winter meetings earlier this month.
Jayson Werth jolted the landscape by signing a seven-year deal worth $126 million with the Washington Nationals.
Werth, who has 120 homers and 406 RBIs with a .272 average over 2,519 career at-bats, will turn 32 on May 20.
Hamilton, who has 93 homers and 331 RBIs with a .311 average over 1,776 career at-bats, will turn 30 on May 21. When his chance at free agency arrives, he will be the same age as Werth.
The effects of drug abuse, though, will put Hamilton in an unprecedented category when the Rangers decide to negotiate a contract extension, either this spring or when he becomes a free agent after the 2012 season.
"The byproduct of all that is that he's at an older stage of his career," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We try to look at it every off-season: Are there core players that make sense for us to discuss multiyear deals? It goes without saying we'd like to see Josh stay here beyond the two years he has left in arbitration."
But Hamilton said he's not sweating anything. He just wants to be treated fairly.
"I have peace that whatever happens is going to happen," he said. "I'm not going to be hurting either way. I don't worry myself with it. It's about trusting the Lord. I'm going to play."
He's had money before, thanks to a $3.96 million signing bonus in 1999 that eventually was blown mostly on drugs. By playing at an MVP level, the riches will come again.
This time, in the spirit of Christmas, things will be different.
"It was a valuable lesson for me to realize that it's great to have things and be able to afford things," Hamilton said. "But now the outlook is, I live comfortably, I'm very blessed, but how can I be an impact on God's kingdom with what he's allowed me to have? That's the focus on anything now."