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Close encounter with Ranger's Josh Hamilton

Texas Ranger star Josh Hamilton struck a brief friendship with Hudsonite Dale Gehn and his daughter Katie Johnson. Among the group at the Ranger training camp in Arizona are, front from left, Katie's daughters Sarah, Hannah and Annika Johnson; back row: Dale Gehn, Katie (Gehn) Johnson, Josh Hamilton and Chris Johnson (Katie's husband). Submitted photo1 / 3
The Josh Hamilton book tells about his dramatic downfall and how faith saved him and his major-league baseball career.2 / 3
Katie (Gehn) Johnson, left, is photographed with Texas Ranger star Josh Hamilton after the baseball player penned a long message to prisoners whom Katie teaches adult education in Minnesota. Hamilton battled back from drug and alcohol abuse and in his message to prisoners said "If I can do it, you can too." Submitted photo3 / 3

Josh Hamilton, star outfielder for the Texas Rangers baseball team, has made national headlines during the baseball season, including an American League batting title and helping his team advance to the recent World Series.

In the spring of 2009, however, Hamilton had a close encounter with Hudsonite Dale Gehn and his adult daughter Katie Johnson.

Gehn, his wife Nola and Katie's family were visiting in Arizona last spring and were staying just three miles from the Texas rangers training facility in Surprise, Ariz.

Gehn read Hamilton's book titled "Beyond Belief." The book describes the baseball star's four-year nightmare battle with drugs and alcohol. He tells the personal story about his dramatic downfall, eventual baseball suspension and how faith saved him and his major-league career.

Impressed with the book, Gehn decided to visit the Rangers' practice facility and see if he could give Hamilton a word of encouragement.

"I went to the training field right after finishing the book," Gehn said. "Josh was waiting near the batting cage. I called his name; he looked over and when I motioned, he got up and walked over to me."

Gehn extended his hand and congratulated him on the book.

"He smiled shyly and we continued to talk," Gehn said. From reading the book, Gehn knew Hamilton had a wife named Katie and three daughters. In the small-world department, Gehn has a daughter named Katie, and she and her husband have three daughters.

"I mentioned that they were coming to see him play," Gehn said. "He responded with a smile and said 'I hope you come too.'"

Gehn responded, "Oh, I sure will."

Gehn's daughter Katie is a 1983 Hudson High School graduate and a former Miss Hudson. As a point of reference, Katie works in adult education at a prison in Elk River, Minn. In her dealings she works with many people who have drug and alcohol problems.

The family attended a Sunday afternoon game and Hamilton hit two home runs. On Monday, they went back to the practice field and Hamilton again came over and Gehn introduced him to his daughter Katie. In fact, Hamilton said "now where's Katie."

When Hamilton found out she worked with prisoners involved in drug and alcohol issues, he immediately took time to write a lengthy message to the inmates on a game program that featured his color photo.

The message included comments about his baseball exploits, scripture references and ended it with "If I can do it, you can too."

Gehn said Katie hung the message at the prison and it has generated a lot of interest in Hamilton.

"How fitting that this man who overcame such adversity could make it into the World Series," Gehn said. "And, even more special is that he humbly and publically credits his Lord. His book is a must read."

For the record, Gehn also got Hamilton's autograph during their last encounter.

"I told him that I bought the Ranger cap I was wearing just after he hit his second homerun yesterday," Gehn said. "He took it without my asking and autographed it."

One thing is for sure, the Gehn family will be tracking the baseball future of Josh Hamilton with special attention.