Lost and Found

After beating his drug addiction, Rangers inspirational sensation Josh Hamilton is bearing down on an MVP

And—holiest of cow—he's already locked up Comeback Player of the Year.

"He's doing everything," says Rangers' manager Ron Washington. "If we need him to get a clutch hit, he gets it. If an RBI's out there, he gets it. He gets two-out base hits, he plays outfield, runs the bases. Everything. Awesome."

Hamilton's tale—redolent with righteous retribution—is gaining traction nationally, evidenced by last week's cover of Sports Illustrated. Locally, he's resurrecting a most endangered intangible:

Hope.

First, he helped save Washington's job with a personal hitting streak that halted the team's hideous seven-game losing skid in April, idling management's contingency plans that included putting the manager's likely successors on speed dial. Now, inspired by his miracle, mojo and muscles, Rangers' fans are wet-dreaming about winning a playoff game for the first time since '96.

Though it's an awkward president/player face-of-the-franchise pairing—impeccable Nolan Ryan and an inked-up drug addict—somehow it's sprouting optimism.

But with the team's ERA escalating faster than gas prices, Hamilton can't possibly carry the Rangers into a September pennant race. Hamilton, Roy Hobbs and Mickey Mantle couldn't negate this horrible pitching.

Then again, who envisioned a New Kids On The Block reunion tour?

If they can keep their burgeoning superstar physically healthy and mentally content, the Rangers believe. In fact, from the moment they witnessed Hamilton's unique combination of power and passion last February in Arizona, they believed.

"The kid has more raw power than anyone I've coached and that includes Juan and Sammy [Sosa]," longtime hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said the first week of spring training. "He can do it all."

Even alter opinions.

After one particularly jaw-dropping display during a spring batting practice, the imposing Hamilton tossed his bat, dropped his guard and sauntered over to the chain-link fence separating field from first-base stands.

"Hi, Daddy!" shrieked his 3-year-old daughter, Sierra.

Replied Hamilton, holding her hand through the fence while making eyes at Katie a few rows behind, "I love you!"

So much for first impressions.

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