Saints pitcher Hamburger makes major life changes in minors

  • Article by: JASON GONZALEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 12, 2013 - 7:03 AM

Drug use cost Mark Hamburger his big league career, but he’s cleaning up his life and starting anew with the St. Paul Saints.

 

Hands pressed together and eyes shut, Mark Hamburger meditated on the yoga instructor’s statement.

“Let your devotion be your doing,” Nora said into heavy, 90-degree air in a muggy studio in downtown Minneapolis.

For most of the St. Paul Saints pitcher’s young adult life, he had been devoted to, and was doing, the wrong things.

“I wasn’t secure with myself and the things I was doing,” Hamburger said after one of his daily yoga sessions, which help him maintain a newfound direction in his life. “I was thinking about making other people happy. I wasn’t making my life happy.”

The lifestyle included drug use and excessive spending. It depleted his bank account, once fattened by $16,000 bi-weekly paychecks, and left him feeling betrayed. He eventually was suspended from baseball for two failed drug tests within six months, most recently in February, and interest waned in his 94-miles-per-hour fastball.

Newly committed to staying clean after a stint at Hazelden treatment center, Hamburger is hoping his stint with the Saints — where he makes $600 every two weeks — can rekindle that interest.

The Shoreview native had turned second and third chances into a career in professional baseball, signing initially with the Twins after an open tryout camp. He made his major league debut with the Texas Rangers in 2011.

As a Rangers reliever, Hamburger threw eight innings, won a game, and struck out six in five appearances. He even watched from the dugout as the franchise won an American League championship and went to the World Series.

But everything that appeared to be good in Hamburger’s life began to fade over the next year. He chose to comfort himself by smoking marijuana. Once he was on a major league 40-man roster, it became as much a part of his daily routine as playing catch.

His performance suffered. The Rangers waived him. The San Diego Padres did, too. The Houston Astros picked him up in July 2012, then waived him in February after his second failed drug test triggered a 50-game suspension and his release from affiliated baseball.

With nowhere else to go, Hamburger came home to his parents’ basement.

And the team that taught him to love baseball as a kid gave him his fourth chance. Saints manager George Tsamis had heard of the release and reached out to him.

“He should get a chance. Or someone should take a chance on him,” Tsamis said. “He has a future [in baseball] and it’s up to him to stay on the right track.”

On Feb. 28, Hamburger checked into Hazelden in Center City, Minn., for 30 days.

Almost five months after leaving what he calls the “biggest blessing of his life,” Hamburger, 26, is among the best pitchers in the American Association of independent professional baseball. He has a 5-6 record, leads Saints starters with a 3.47 ERA and has four complete games, 96 strikeouts and 36 walks in 119 innings pitched.

According to Tsamis, he’s also the most talked-about — and one of the most feared — pitchers in the league.

Opportunities come and go

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