Josh Hamilton was the top pick in the 1999 major-league draft before an addiction to drugs and alcohol knocked him out of baseball and into working construction.
Simply getting back to the major leagues seemed like a long shot.
Playing in the Major League Baseball all-star game at Yankee Stadium was the furthest thing from his mind.
Fast forward to Monday, when the Texas Rangers slugger was in a New York hotel ballroom, surrounded by the best players in the American League.
"It is like being a little kid in a candy store," Hamilton said. "You don't know which way to go and who to say 'Hey' to.
"I'm just very excited."
Hamilton, who leads the majors with 95 runs batted in, is one of 28 first-time all-stars on the rosters for Tuesday night's midsummer classic, the most since 32 in 2003.
None has taken a more harrowing road than Hamilton.
He will start in centre field and bat third in the American League's powerful lineup.
"It's a wonderful story," said Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella, one of the coaches for the National League.
"He's a good kid who lost his way and refound it."
Hamilton is one of four AL players and eight total who are starting in their first all-star game in the final year for Yankee Stadium.
The Los Angeles Angels sent two first-timers from their rotation (Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders) and newcomer Cliff Lee of the Cleveland Indians will start for the AL.
Hamilton is one of three newcomers from Texas, with Milton Bradley and Ian Kinsler also making the trip alongside five-time all-star Michael Young.
"If they were saying, you got an invite to the all-star game but you've got to shine the shoes," Bradley said, "I'll be like, I'd be shining shoes but I'd have my foot in the door.
"I just wanted to be a part of the celebration."
Five newcomers in NL outfield
The NL has five first-time outfielders alone, with Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, Chicago's Kosuke Fukudome and two of the biggest surprises of the first half — Pittsburgh's Nate McLouth and Ryan Ludwick of St. Louis.
Two of the newcomers were even traded for each other in the off-season: The Rangers sent Edinson Volquez to Cincinnati for Hamilton.
"There's an influx of great young talent in the game," said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, back in the all-star game for the first time since 2001.
"Some of them are going to get even better before they drop off. I think the days, at least in the National League, of the 38-year-old all-stars are coming to an end."
None of the newcomers are younger than 22-year-old Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who started this season in the minors and won the internet balloting for the final spot on the AL team.
He was planning to go to Las Vegas with some buddies over the break but was happy to change his travel plans.
"I try to look down the road and see myself where I want to be," Longoria said, "and, I mean, the all-star game was definitely not something that I foresaw in my future.
"Maybe putting up good numbers or having a good season, but this has definitely exceeded all of my expectations."
Some of the newcomers did some research to prepare for the all-star festivities.
Braun quizzed Ken Griffey Jr. when the Cincinnati Reds were in Milwaukee over the weekend.
Giants closer Brian Wilson said teammates Rich Aurilia and Randy Winn told him he needed a dozen baseballs, a bat and an extra batting practice jersey for the autograph room.
"Done," Wilson said.
Ludwick travelled to New York with Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols and was planning to follow the seven-time all-star's every move.
"I'm pretty much holding his hand around this whole deal," Ludwick said with a grin.