"It tore me apart," said Allison. "I know. I've been there."
Allison knows alright, and when he crawled through the wreckage of substance abuse to make the 2008 Florida State League All-Star Game, Hamilton called him the day after his historic Home Run Derby performance at Yankee Stadium to congratulate him.
"I know nothing of the particulars of what happened to Josh, but I will say this: I know how hard it is to fight," Allison said.
When Allison woke up Friday morning, it had been five years and two months of sobriety. His baseball career is now over; to even try again would require an elbow operaton from a pop he felt three years ago, but ignored because of the long walk back from his personal hell. He is working toward a college degree with online courses from the University of Phoenix. He works at the facility. He coaches two different youth teams, and works with young pitchers.
"I'm happy," he says, "and I'm proud of where I am. Do I wish I were in the big leagues? Of course, but once I hurt my elbow and didn't say anything, my stuff was never the same."
Allison is the best high school pitcher I've ever seen in New England. The night I saw him, he sat 95-97 mph with a hammer curveball. In seven innings, he faced 22 batters and threw 21 first-pitch strikes.
The Marlins took him with the 16th pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, but the demons from his hometown of Peabody, Mass., followed him. He sat out the 2004 season, and nearly died that summer from an overdose of oxycontin. He missed the 2006 and 2007 seasons. The Marlins tried to stand by him, and owner Jeffrey Loria flew up to be at his hospital bedside.
Allison got clean, with Loria's help. He addressed groups of Minor Leaguers. But once he hurt his elbow, the stuff never came back.
And now, at 27, he is 62 months clean, trying to find his balance and help kids stay away from his demons. Today, he cares about Hamilton, "Because if you haven't gone through this, you have no idea how it tears at you. Josh will make it through. He will succeed. He will be great. I say it from a different vantage point than many other people. I've been there. I know. And I know that in the end, Josh will win and continue to be a superstar. If I could help him as he helped me, I would, but he may not need anyone else, because he will make it."
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less