Each summer Sports Illustrated revisits, remembers and rethinks some of the biggest names and most important stories of our sporting past. This year’s WHERE ARE THEY NOW? crop features a Flying Fish and a Captain, jet packs and NFTs, the Commerce Comet and the Say Hey Kid. Come back all week for more.
Early last year, Katie Hamilton went online and ordered a baseball jersey. It arrived stitched with a surprise metaphor.
She picked out the top quickly: She typed in “women’s baseball jersey” on Amazon and looked for one that wasn’t affiliated with any major league team, that didn’t have a name on the back and that would hug her petite frame. When she added her choice to her cart, she didn’t bother zooming in. She missed the small logo on the chest.
It was only when the jersey arrived that she caught the red circle over the left breast, the emblem for the Rockford Peaches, who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of the 1940s and ’50s, and who were later immortalized in A League of Their Own. Hamilton had always liked the movie. But the jersey was perfect for more abstract reasons.
For over a decade she’d geared up as she visited stadium after stadium in support of her then husband, Josh Hamilton, the slugger who made two trips to the World Series with the Rangers. He earned the American League MVP in 2010, but he was best known for his candor about his struggles with drug addiction and alcoholism, and Katie had stood by his side through the ups and downs of a complicated career. Now, though, she was ordering a jersey purely for herself. She wanted, finally, to speak publicly about her own life, and so she was starting a podcast: When Life Throws You a Curve & How to Make the Adjustment.
The jersey was for a publicity photo shoot, capturing a woman who had watched from the stands for years, who was now stepping into the spotlight on her own—and who, by a coincidence of e-commerce, would be repping women who long ago took the field after a lifetime of being told the game was exclusively for men.
Well, Hamilton thought, that’s fitting.
For her this was all new, talking about her life by herself, and on her own terms. At the same time, she had plenty of practice, more generally, with speaking publicly about extremely personal matters. While Josh was in MLB, husband and wife delivered inspirational talks across the country, openly detailing intensely difficult moments from their past. They shared about their family’s battle with addiction and focused on the strength they’d drawn from their Christian faith. But by the time Hamilton decided to try speaking on her own, those talks all felt like a lifetime ago.
In 2015, following a series of public relapses and rumors of his infidelity, Josh filed for divorce. And that season, marred by injuries, became his last in the majors as he struggled to regain his game. Quickly, the requests for motivational speeches dried up. Progress on a movie about his family, which had been in preproduction, fizzled out. After the separation, Josh and Katie shared custody of their four daughters—Julia, Sierra, Michaela and Stella—and largely led quiet lives.
Until October 2019. That month, Josh was arrested after one of his daughters (who hasn’t been named publicly, and whose identity Sports Illustrated is keeping private) reported that he’d pulled a chair out from under her, pinned her face-down on a bed and hit her repeatedly with both an open hand and a closed fist, leaving her with bruises and scratches. According to an affidavit, he also told her: “I hope you go in front of the f---ing judge and tell him what a terrible dad I am so I don’t have to see you anymore and you don’t ever have to come to my house again.” Josh was later indicted by a grand jury on a felony charge of injury to a child, and he’s currently awaiting trial following pandemic-related court delays.
After he was indicted in 2020, Hamilton's lawyers, Daniel Lewis and Thomas Ashworth, said in a statement, "Hamilton is innocent of the charge against him and looks forward to clearing his name in court." Reached for comment in June 2021, Lewis and Ashworth said they were no longer representing Hamilton. More recent court records named another lawyer for Hamilton, but when reached, he said that he was no longer representing Hamilton, either. Hamilton's agent, Mike Moye, directed requests for comment on legal questions to Tina Miller, one of the lawyers who represented Hamilton in a 2015 arbitration hearing against MLB. When presented with a list of questions and allegations from this story, Miller offered the following statement: “Mr. Hamilton will not be commenting at this time, as he believes it is inappropriate for people involved in litigation, especially litigation involving their children, to try their case in the media. He denies the allegations and is confident the truth will come out in the end.”
The aftermath of it all, for Katie, was a nightmare. News helicopters hovered over her house, and she knew that her girls would return to school with classmates who’d seen their most painful moments shrunk down to headlines. For weeks, she looked inward, trying to figure out how to move forward. And that’s when she came to understand, she says, that she wanted to say something. In all those years of speaking alongside her husband, there was so much that she’d never articulated about their marriage, so much she’d felt obligated to keep to herself. That silence could leave her feeling horribly, unremittingly alone.
After the arrest, though, there was no reason to keep quiet anymore. The truth was, Hamilton says, her marriage had always been more difficult than anyone knew. Not because of Josh’s widely known struggles with addiction, but because of what she described as years of controlling, temperamental behavior that left her feeling as if even the slightest misunderstanding might escalate into violence against her or one of her children.
This dread had been less abstract in certain stretches of the past: She was granted a protective order against Josh during a brief separation back in 2005, following an incident in which, she claimed in a court filing, he threatened her with a hammer; and, after the divorce, she negotiated for his initial visits with their children to be supervised. But now, after her daughter’s report of alleged abuse, Katie realized just how much she wanted to share. And how much her speaking might help others in similar situations.
So when she ordered the Rockford Peaches jersey and sat down in front of a microphone for the first time in January 2020, she didn’t feel nervous, or as if there was any risk of saying too much. Instead, she says, “I figured, it’s about time.”
Katie Hamilton has worked on her podcast, on and off, for the last year and a half. There have been some logistical interruptions—parenting and schooling through a pandemic will do that. And then there’s been the weight of the work itself, sifting through her life, figuring out what makes sense to share, trying to form it all into the sort of cohesive narrative that can be broken down into neat, episodic little blocks.
But it has been much, much easier than the years she spent talking about her marriage alongside Josh, she says.
The story has been told many times—repeated so often in the early days of his career that it took on the cadence of folklore. Josh and Katie went to high school together in Raleigh, N.C., but did not begin dating until their early 20s. When they reconnected, he was a No. 1 draft pick, back in town to rehab an injury, and she was a single mom to one child, Julia, from a previous relationship. They married in 2004 and quickly felt like a family unit, giving Julia, then a toddler, his last name.
Baseball, early on, did not seem like it would be part of their married life. At the time, Josh was five years removed from being drafted, but he’d never advanced beyond playing in Double A. Already he had multiple suspensions for failed drug tests. In that first year of marriage, he slipped deeper into addiction, and Katie found herself praying for anything that might pull Josh away from booze and crack.
And then began what felt like a miracle climb toward sobriety. After years away from the game at any level, Josh made his major league debut in 2007. He became a Home Run Derby icon in ’08 and published a book that same year, Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back. The couple began talking publicly about their journey, their relationship and their faith.
Hamilton says she always worried about what this candor might mean for their children. What if somebody used this all against them? What if some future classmate of their kids searched and saw this frankness as material for bullying? She recognized the value in talking about the realities of addiction—especially in sharing the solace they found in religion. But did they need to be so open about, say, the particular pain of the night that Josh took Katie’s wedding ring and traded it for crack? With every speech and interview, the worry pulled at her: Is this too much to share?
Further complicating such openness was the pain of the occasional relapse. Sometimes there were photographs. Sometimes other women were involved, as in 2012, when a bar in Dallas constructed a crude bathroom-stall shrine to the spot where Josh was said to have had drunken sex with another patron. After years of struggle, this regression “wasn’t like the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Katie says. “It was like the boulder that came down, disintegrating the camel.”
She thought very seriously about divorce, she says, but the situation could feel paralyzing. Katie was terrified by what it might mean to leave. Because while the public narrative of their marriage had been driven by their battle with her husband’s addiction, there was another struggle, against something harder to pin down, that left her feeling trapped.
Their entire relationship, she says, was spent trying to navigate the cycles of Josh’s moods. Trying to describe it all now, Katie shuffles through metaphors, comparing their marital dynamic to walking around landmines, or on eggshells, or in the presence of a bomb that would go off no matter where she stepped. She says she always felt on alert—“even just a benign conversation” was capable of setting off a temper that could frighten her. She wasn’t comfortable maintaining close friendships; she was too scared to risk anyone getting a real glimpse of their home life. (She says Josh kept their social circle small, too, for this reason.) And she felt like she was “never good enough”; everything she did was seemingly up for critique.
The experience could range from exhausting to terrifying, but in the moment she wasn't sure how to contextualize it—how to find the right vocabulary to describe what she was experiencing or what to measure it against. “I compared everything to what it was like when he was on crack,” Hamilton says. “And that was so bad that it made everything in comparison seem manageable. … Well, you know, it’s not that bad. I can deal with it.”
Deep down, she worried that things might escalate, as they had before. She was always cautious, she says, on the lookout for any shift in Josh’s mood, prepared to whisk the girls away to a park or to the grocery store at a moment’s notice.
“Now that I’m older and I know so many of the things that did go on, I’m like, Oh, my God, how did you put up with that? Why didn’t you tell us?” says Julia, who’s now 20. “There was a lot we didn’t know.”
As Julia and her sisters grew older, as a matter of necessity, they became attuned to their parents’ general dynamic. Julia separates her memories of her father into two categories: The days when her dad was playing baseball—happy times, when they would all go to the ballpark and feel like they had something to support together. And then there were all the other days, tiptoeing around, cautious not to set him off, “not having too much of any relationship at home,” she says.
Katie remembers 2012, when she weighed leaving—how she curled up on the floor of her closet, where she always went to think and pray, so emotionally hurt that she felt it, physically, and how she thought about how much effort could go into shielding her girls from the worst of her husband’s temper. As one family unit, she believed, she had more control in protecting her daughters. But would she lose that control if she walked out? “That,” she says, “seemed like such a daunting task. There were so many unknowns about what it would be like.” And so she decided to stay, at least until the girls were grown. If she could make it through this, she told herself, she might make it through anything.
So when Josh filed for divorce after another public relapse, in 2015, Katie was “totally, completely blindsided.”
According to court records, an initial custody agreement granted Josh only supervised visits with his daughters. After a year, however, that oversight loosened, and the girls struggled as they spent more alone time with him. For Julia, specifically, trying to navigate her dad’s moods felt like a test she could only fail. She says that she tried to be closer to him—asking to go to family therapy, or to spend more time together—only to be consistently rebuffed.
“He didn’t want to deal with it,” she says. “He just wanted to push [the past] under the rug and act like nothing ever happened. I wanted to know, Why are you doing these things? And it was just something that he couldn’t do.”
Now that she’s an adult, she says, her father has not been in contact with her in years; her attempts at communication have gone unanswered. And while that empty relationship made for a painful teenage existence, she says she’s recently begun to feel differently: “I don’t have to live with that shame or regret or burden anymore. … I learned from my mom that this is not me, it’s him, and being able to heal and forgive and move on has been the most freeing thing.”
When Josh was arrested in October 2019, after the alleged abuse, it appeared from the outside like a sudden, dark twist in a family story that was already complicated. But there was nothing sudden about it for Katie, who’d spent years worrying, watching his relationship with her children. And as she tried to process the incident, remembering all the stories that had been told over the years about her marriage, she realized: Those old worries about how much to share seemed to disappear. If she wanted to speak up about her own experience—and she felt like she finally did—perhaps she didn’t have to be so guarded.
“I was more cautious before everything was so public,” says Katie. “But now: There’s really no reason why I can’t tell my story. It’s not worth staying silent. If there’s one person I can help, that’s worth it.”
Which brought Katie Hamilton to a podcast microphone. She eventually wants to write a book of her own, too. But she has started with this: talking her way through what she has learned.
It has been difficult to figure out just what to include and when. (“When she decides to talk, she puts it all out there; she can go on and on and on,” says her original producer, Cash Payne. “So I’m trying to wrangle her in a little bit.”) She has recorded episodes about forgiveness, about setting boundaries and about the early years of her marriage. A persistent theme throughout is her faith, which she credits with guiding her through her lowest points.
The response so far has been modest. But Hamilton is more focused, she says, on the act of sharing than on trying to cultivate a large audience. She looks back on the time she spent doubting herself, feeling trapped, and she thinks about what sort of message might have helped her. “I want everyone to know that their life has value,” she says. “Whether that falls on deaf ears or not, that’s not for me to determine or decide. But it’s not going to reach anybody if I stay silent.”
Hamilton knows there are people who will look at her work in the aftermath of her ex-husband’s arrest and think of it as opportunistic, or worse. But she feels secure in her motivations and in her personal timing. She says she was presented with plenty of opportunities to speak to the media about her marriage in the years after her divorce, and she never felt like she was ready. Now, she says, is different. “I didn’t have peace,” she says. “I didn’t want to speak [while] I was still healing, or maybe hurt. I wanted to make sure that I’m coming from a place of pure motive.”
Payne says that when he initially sat down with Hamilton, whom he didn’t know before the podcast, he wasn’t sure what to expect. As they discussed ideas for how to structure the show, it all seemed to him like the sort of material that could easily feel too personal, or too bitter, once she got down to it. After their first episode, however, he wasn’t so hung up on those concerns.
“I was like, Man, she’s really holding nothing back, but she doesn’t have any malice or ill will,” he says. “I think she just really wants to help others.”
Hamilton, meanwhile, says she has received some pushback, particularly for framing her podcast around baseball. “But baseball,” she says, “was a massive part of my adult life—as much as dealing with drug addiction and all of the other stuff I dealt with with Josh. It would be silly to think that didn’t have an impact on me.”
Beyond the big, thematic lessons, the podcast has been an opportunity, after years of being publicly cast as Josh’s supporting characters, to put a little shine on herself and on her daughters: Julia, who’s so much more self-assured than Katie was at this age; Sierra, who’s funny and quick-witted; Michaela, nurturing and animal-loving; and Stella, athletic and competitive.
Katie Hamilton is still figuring out exactly what comes next for her. But with her children older, and her marriage behind her—“her whole life was about my dad,” says Julia—she feels like she’s finally in a position to properly explore.
"I know exactly who I am," she says. "I know who God created me to be, and now I can live that out freely."