In Hamilton's return to Texas, fans go to town
ARLINGTON -- As the afternoon wore on and the boos got louder, Josh Hamilton decided to have some fun with the whole thing. With the fans closest to him chanting "Baseball town, baseball town," Hamilton couldn't resist. He began playfully imitating a quarterback's throwing motion, and then he pretended to take a few snaps from center.
"Yeah, I messed with 'em a little bit," he said. "You gotta encourage 'em a little bit."
In the end, his first game at Rangers Ballpark as a member of the Angels was pretty much what he expected it to be. He was booed when he stepped to home plate and taunted during his time in right field from the fans who cheered him during five seasons with the Rangers.
"It's a road game, a real road game," he said. "You know, they paid to come to the game, and they expressed themselves how they wanted to express themselves today."
The Rangers defeated the Angels, 3-2, Friday afternoon in front of 48,845 in their home opener as Hamilton struck out twice and flied out twice to lower his batting average to .063 after four games.
Afterward, he gave an interview that was typical of most Josh Hamilton interviews. That is, he opened up in a way few athletes ever open up. He spoke of faith and family. He said he'd braced himself to be booed, especially after his comments that Dallas-Fort Worth "isn't a baseball town," but he couldn't just brush it off.
"It probably hurts a little bit more to know that people would just turn that quickly," he said. "To think they kind of supported you tells you a lot. But it didn't like overwhelm me. It wasn't that detrimental."
And then in a clear reference to his "baseball town" comments, he took a shot of his own.
"Honestly, that was louder than any playoff game I've ever been to," he said. "I'm excited for them about that. Hopefully, the fans can carry that on through the season. I mean, I can't say I didn't expect it. I will never take back what I said until they show up every night for 30 years. I'm glad I can help create spirit and fire in this town."
This game was different from any other he'll play this season. During five seasons with the Rangers, he became one of the franchise's most popular players ever. He made the American League All-Star team every season in Texas and won a Most Valuable Player Award in 2010. When he arrived the Rangers had never won a postseason series. During his five seasons, they won the American League pennant twice.
That was only part of the story. His battles with addiction touched thousands of fans as he shared his story over and over, as he twice slipped as he constantly encouraged others.
To thousands of Rangers fans, he was more than a ballplayer, and so when he left for the Angels and when he took a parting shot at the fans who'd adored him, it hurt more than most of these things hurt.
"I got worn out just as good today than I had anywhere else," he said. "The booing was a little louder. I've been chanted 'Crackhead' before in Yankee Stadium just like I was today. Fans are fans. That's still not going to get me to stop spending time with them, signing autographs, putting scripture on everything. I'm not here for them in general. I'm here to do what I'm supposed to do. It doesn't matter what they boo, yell, spit, throw. It's all good.
"Obviously, there were relationships built here for five years. Those relationships are not gone. It's good to see 'em and spend time with 'em. I'm sure I'll see 'em a lot more this year."
As for his slow start on offense, he was asked if he was anxious.
"Would you blame me for being a little anxious?" he asked.
Rangers left-hander Derek Holland struck him out in his first two at-bats with a diet of breaking and off-speed pitches, mostly out of the strike zone. He lined to right off Holland in the sixth and then flied to center off closer Joe Nathan in the ninth.
"You have an idea what the Rangers are going to do to you," he said. "[I was] a little jumpy. What are we, four games in? I'm not pressing the panic button by any means."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.