Rays prospect Hamilton cleared to play in minors

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Troubled Tampa Bay Devil Rays prospect Josh Hamilton, on the restricted list the past two seasons, received permission from Major League Baseball on Friday to play in minor league games the rest of the year.

Hamilton, 25, the No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft, was suspended in February 2004 for violating baseball's drug policy. The outfielder hasn't played since July 2002 because of injuries and unspecified personal issues.

"I've treated this as my last chance," Hamilton said. "Just not in baseball, but when it comes to it, maybe in life. I'm going to take each day a day at a time. If I don't take each day a day at a time and I start projecting, I might end up where I was before. If I take one day at a time, one game at a time, everything will be good."

Hamilton has been assigned to Class-A Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League. He plans to depart Florida, where he has been working out, Sunday and is expected to play Monday.

"I got chills, got a big smile on my face, all the expected emotions came about," Hamilton said. "I feel like I'm starting over again from scratch."

Hamilton was granted limited privileges starting June 2 that allowed him to begin working out at the Devil Rays' minor league complex with the extended spring training team. He didn't appear in any extended games but did take part in simulated games.

"It's a very important day for Josh and us," Tampa Bay executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "The most important thing is to keep his life going in the right direction. "He's really worked hard to get to this point. He's now got a chance to go out and play. He's earned it."

Hamilton, who received a $3.96 million signing bonus out of high school, hit .295 with 33 homers and 166 RBI in 251 minor league games. There is no timetable for how long Hamilton will be with Hudson Valley.

"I really believe that all of us deserve a second chance in
different situations," Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
"Meeting him, I really believe he's going to give a sincere effort
to work his way through this."

Hamilton will continue to undergo drug testing three times a week.