By Mark Miller
His blue jersey still has the same number 32 on his back. The long, looping swing from his glory days remains. The hustle more reminiscent of his early years seems to have returned.
Yes, Josh Hamilton is happy to once again be a Texas Ranger following two mediocre seasons with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. After missing all of spring training because of right shoulder surgery and a trade back to his former team when an arbiter ruled the Angels couldn’t suspend him for self-reporting an off-field incident, he spent two weeks on rehabilitation assignments with the Round Rock Express and Frisco RoughRiders. That followed 10 days of extended spring training in Arizona.
Though he started slow with four hits in 19 at-bats with Round Rock, he went on a tear with Frisco (9 for 16). He had four hits his first game in Frisco, went 3-for-3 with a double and three runs scored in his third game, then followed the next day with his first home run in a game that started at 11:05 a.m.
“It felt good,” he said of the first-pitch blast off Midland’s Jake Sanchez in the seventh inning. “I woke up. Those 11 o’clock games…”
He had three hits in nine at-bats in his final two games back in Round Rock for a .363 overall rehab average. That was enough for the Rangers to call him up to play in Cleveland on Memorial Day.
“When I say I’m glad to be back playing, I’m glad to be back playing. I don’t care where I play,” he said. “Eventually I’ll be where I want to be but I keep going out there.”
Hamilton and the Rangers worked together to determine when he was ready to jump to the big club.
“In the past, I would have forced the issue to get back but I’m not forcing the issue now,” he said. “I’m trying to grow up a little bit.”
Part of that growing up was helping teach the younger players the right way to approach the game – whether they like it or not.
“As a veteran, you come down and see certain things, you don’t blow them up in front of their teammates but you talk to them about things because guys did that for me and it’s only right I do the same thing,” he said. “There are a lot of talented guys but you want to see them do things the right way. It goes a long way.”
Will Hamilton provide offense like his American League Most Valuable Player year in 2010 (.359 batting average 32 home runs, 100 runs batted in for 133 games)? Hardly likely. Can he come close to 2012, his last year with the Rangers (.285 average, 43 home runs, 128 runs batted in)? Doubtful. Should we expect a repeat of his two disappointing seasons in California (a combined .257, 31 HR, 123 RBI in 240 games)? Possibly.
Most likely the numbers will fall somewhere in between. But whatever Hamilton produces, joining Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre should, if all are healthy, create a formidable 3-4-5 lineup that is bound to improve the Rangers’ offense.
Would such a lineup put the Rangers back into playoff contention? Not by itself, since Hamilton can’t improve the pitching staff and can only help the defense somewhat. But with it unlikely that the Houston Astros will keep up their strong play and the rest of the division being average, you never know.
“All I can do is go out there and try to be the player I’m capable of being, be upbeat and energetic and hopefully we can have some fun with the guys,” he said. “If you can do that, the other stuff kind of takes care of itself.”