Hamilton unsure what to expect from return to Texas
Slugger spent five All-Star seasons as a Ranger before signing with the rival Angels
Angels players conducted an in-house poll to vote on whether Josh Hamilton would receive more applause or boos upon returning to Rangers Ballpark on Friday, but they won't share the results with their new right fielder.
Hamilton, himself, isn't so sure, either.
"I think it'll be mixed," he said. "But I don't know if I can say there will be more claps than boos, or more boos than claps, to be honest."
Hamilton seems overly optimistic here. There will be boos -- plenty of them -- raining down from a ballpark the 31-year-old slugger electrified and, in many ways, brought to life during his five-year stint with the Rangers.
Fans tend to have short memories. So, when Hamilton returns for the 11:05 a.m. PT game, Rangers fans may hardly recall those five straight All-Star starts, or that 2010 American League MVP Award, or even his overall impact on elevating a franchise to new heights.
Freshest in their minds, perhaps, will be the 2012 second-half slump, the dropped fly ball in the de facto division title game against Oakland in the regular-season finale, the ensuing departure to the division rivals and, most recently, the on-camera comments about the Dallas/Fort Worth area not being "a true baseball town."
Hamilton is prepared for the jeers of Texas, which will immediately follow the cheers of Cincinnati.
Will they hurt?
"Yes and no," he said. "The people who understand the game, and who appreciate what I gave and what I did in Texas, will clap. People who are just bandwagon fans and fair-weather fans will boo.
"I don't worry about what people think. I have a wife, I have kids, I have a job to do. At the same time -- they don't know me. They don't understand me. They'll never know the real me until they spend time with me, interact and have a relationship. There's no need for me to stress about it or worry about whether or not people remember me as the guy who gave everything or the guy who missed the fly ball, because my identity is not wrapped up in the game."
This spring, Hamilton began to get acclimated with the new setting. He endeared himself to Angels fans by relentlessly signing autographs. He showed off his playful side with his new teammates, and he even had a soft opening, per se, suiting up against his former Rangers teammates in Surprise, Ariz., on March 21.
Hamilton hasn't shied away from the countless questions centered on his return to Texas, but he's doing his best to turn the page and is happy to get it over with early in the season.
"As time goes on," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "people will disconnect him with Texas and connect him more with us. He was a great contributor to that organization for the last five seasons, and I'm sure the fans understand his contributions."
Hamilton was the great enigma in Texas. On one side, there were two alcohol-related setbacks, occasional mental lapses, injuries that limited him to an average of 129 games and a brutal second half last year, when Hamilton batted .259 and struck out 86 times in 69 games, while the Rangers blew a five-game division lead with nine to play.
On the other side, there's that epic first-round performance in the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby, the four-homer game in Baltimore last May, and a five-year stint in which Hamilton was tied for ninth in the Majors in batting average (.305), 15th in homers (142), eighth in RBIs (506) and eighth in OPS (.912).
That's the player the Angels expect after signing Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract in December.
That's the player his former boss figures they'll receive.
"If he stays healthy and stays on the field, he's going to produce," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "For me, that's not much a question. It never really has been. One of the most naturally gifted players we've ever seen -- For me, that's the scouting report. He's just a guy who goes out there and does it on natural ability."
Hamilton hasn't shown that off just yet, but it's very early. He navigated through the Opening Series going 1-for-12 with six strikeouts, the last of which came with the tying run on second and two outs in the ninth.
Afterwards, just before departing for the state where he still makes his offseason home, Hamilton was asked about the challenge that awaits him in Arlington this weekend.
"It's just another baseball game," he said. "I'm going home to sleep in my bed, but at 9 o'clock tomorrow, it'll just be another baseball game."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.