Singleton far from alone in addiction battle
Astros prospect can lean on host of players past and present for strength
Ken Caminiti had the sweetest soul imaginable. He was caring and sensitive in a way professional athletes sometimes aren't, and maybe that's why so many of his teammates loved him so. Maybe that's also why they grieved so openly when a drug overdose killed Caminiti in 2004. He was 41 years old.
Some months later, one of his former teammates, Craig Biggio, moved Caminiti's ashes to a favorite hunting spot on a ranch in South Texas. To Biggio, that burial spot, with its beauty and tranquility, represented the perfect final resting place for a tortured soul.
Like hundreds of others, Biggio admired so much about Caminiti. His heart. His determination. He also admired that Caminiti was an absolutely hellacious competitor, playing through injuries that might have sent some players to the hospital.
Before one game in 1996, Caminiti famously pulled an IV needle from his arm, wolfed down a Snickers bar and ignored a stomach flu to homer twice for the Padres during a playoff drive.
Caminiti's death hit hard in Houston, where he played 10 of his 15 seasons and came to represent the passion and tenacity fans love. He also became a cautionary tale about the demons of addiction and how they ravage bodies, destroy families and ultimately kill.
Lord knows, Caminiti fought like hell. He did tours in rehab facilities and attended meetings and all the rest. During a baseball season, when he abided by the structure of batting practice, meals and games, Caminiti had some success staying clean. Once baseball ended for him, he was fighting a war he could not win.
Plenty of Astros fans will remember Caminiti when they read the quotes from 22-year-old first baseman Jon Singleton, a prospect in Houston's farm system who detailed his battle against marijuana, anxiety and depression in an painful-to-read interview with The Associated Press.
"At this point, it's pretty evident to me that I'm a drug addict," Singleton told reporter Kristie Rieken.
Singleton is fortunate that he will have the best support system on earth. The Astros will wrap their collective arms around him, offering counsel and encouragement. So will the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Singleton will be hearing from countless people who've either fought the same fight or know someone who has. Biggio is almost certain to call. Josh Hamilton will, too, if asked. Their relationship could be critical.
No professional athlete -- indeed, few men -- may have experienced the highs and lows of addiction that Hamilton has. His career once seemed over when he missed two full seasons and wasted away to the point that people he'd known his entire life didn't recognize him.
Hamilton fights still, fights every day, admits the battle is never won. Because he has accomplished so much, he's an inspiration to so many, even though he has had two very public slips. When fans introduce themselves and shake Hamilton's hand, they sometimes don't want an autograph or a photo. They simply want to tell him their story and how he has inspired them to keep going.
Hamilton also understands that, in the end, the battle will be Singleton's alone. After all the counselors have gone home and the meetings have ended, there's still Hamilton alone with his thoughts. That's how it'll be with Jon Singleton.
Singleton seems to understand this, saying of his time in a rehab facility: "They would turn off the lights at 11:30, and I would just sit there and stare at the ceiling because I couldn't go to sleep. My heart was beating too fast. I would get night sweats. It was bad. I legitimately went through withdrawal."
Those are the words of an old young, aren't they? Singleton apparently already knows that the battle he's fighting is one that must be fought every day of his life, a fight that can never really be won, at least a battle that never really ends.
Singleton will find out that thousands and thousands have gone done the same road, have fought the same fight and understand exactly what he's feeling. They will all be there for him on some level.
Singleton said he declined to discuss the matter for a year, and maybe this is the next step in the process. He has a chance to be a special player, a power-hitting first baseman who can help lead the Astros back to contention.
Singleton was one of the players that got Astros fans excited about the future. Now he'll be looked at as something far more important than that. Singleton will be watched, not just by fans, but by every parent or spouse who has been impacted by addiction. They understand his path perhaps better than he can at this point. His is a battle that has to be fought one day at a time. Singleton needs to know he has more people praying for him than he can imagine.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.