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Continued: Saints pitcher Hamburger makes major life changes in minors

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

Hamburger got his second chance in high school at Mounds View after quitting the team as a junior, when his coach took him back as a senior. The 2005 graduate attended Mesabi Range Community College in Eveleth, Minn., to play baseball on the recommendation of a Twins scout. He flunked out after his freshman year.

The Twins gave Hamburger a third chance and signed him in 2007. A year later, they traded him to the Rangers for former Twins closer Eddie Guardado.

Hamburger spent the next four years building what he thought was a future with the Rangers organization. He experienced the 2011 World Series in a Rangers uniform and assumed, wrongly, that he had made it. It started with his share of postseason player compensation. The $1,000 check he received was well under his expectations, nor did it match the lifestyle he wanted.

“I wanted to be a big leaguer with the money, and it captured me,” he said. “The next thing I knew, I didn’t have what I wanted and I was mad at [baseball].”

Within 18 months he was out of baseball. No one wanted a two-time drug offender with what looked to be a career in decline.

His craving for pot remained, and using was a way to forget. But Hamburger also knew his life was out of his control and that had to change. His only remaining possession from his big-league experience — health insurance — allowed him to check into Hazelden.

“I had a lot of taps on my shoulder saying ‘What are you doing?’ And I kept failing,” Hamburger said. “It caught up to me.”

‘Devotion’ to what’s right

The first five days of treatment were a “battle” and “purge,” Hamburger said. On Day 3, he read a Bible quote in the book of Zachariah that sustained him through the month and beyond: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin …”

Hamburger often recites the passage to remind himself everything will be fine. The 16-year-old who smoked pot has finally grown up, he said.

“The adversity he’s gone through, he doesn’t let it bother him,” Saints infielder and travel roommate Brad Boyer said. “He’s paying for it right now. But I don’t see it at all.”

It’s hard to hear any discontent in Hamburger’s clubhouse singing voice, or see it in the high-fives he hands out each time he travels to the Saints bullpen. He also makes time for the fans, remembering his beginnings as a youth running around Midway Stadium.

Several major league teams have taken notice of the redefined athlete. Tsamis said he has received calls inquiring about Hamburger’s progress from a handful of teams he wouldn’t name.

Hamburger knows the Twins and other teams are watching, but he isn’t dwelling on it. He’s focusing on having fun and growing up while doing it.

He hasn’t forgotten about the big leagues, though. If he can continue rebuilding his life in the right way — and let his devotion be his doing, as his yoga sessions teach — Hamburger said he envisions himself sober and pitching at that level once again.

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