A Phoenix out of Arizona: The Return of Josh Hamilton
What a turbulent and scary and heartbreaking and promising and eventful and amazingly fun first two months of baseball. What started with…well…less than a bang (one bang on Opening Night in Oakland to be exact) has slowly, steadily evolved into some pretty exciting stuff between the chalk. Prince Fielder is doing Prince Fielder things, the ever blossoming mentorship, but, even more fun friendship of Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus continues to be a joy to see on camera, and, personally, provides that intangible security one tends to feel when you know there’s chemistry in the clubhouse. Delino DeShields, Jr. is proving himself as more than worthy of the Rule 5 pick by Texas. Keone Kela is showing us he’s trying his hardest to produce for a less than stable bullpen, as well as his recently closing counterpart Shawn Tolleson, who has shown off a few impressive closing efforts, as well as that phenomenal change up.
And…in the distance…something once forgotten lingers.
…2012, really. The last time I really cared at all about a certain stud prospect out of Raleigh, North Carolina turned Devil Ray turned Red turned Ranger turned Angel. The last time I wanted to hear anything good about the guy, honestly. The last time I figured I’d see him wear the red, white and blue in Arlington, barring maybe a throwback game or a Memorial Day appearance, which may be a bit of optimistic foreshadowing, but stay with me here.
The last time I ever wanted Josh Hamilton to succeed was October 5, 2012 in an AL Wild Card game against the Orioles. That’s the truth. And Hamilton did not
disappoint DO ANYTHING. He went 0-4 with two strikeouts as the Rangers missed the postseason for the first time in three years. Months later, he’d accept a contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, proclaim Arlington a baseball-free zone, and become 100% dead to me. I’m stubborn with that sort of stuff. I grew up being taught staunch allegiance to a team, which is something I’ve gone a bit off the deep end with in recent years. I was a huge fan of Colt McCoy, and wished him so much success until he put on a certain maroon, white and yellow jersey within the same division as the Cowboys. I feel the same way about Nelson Cruz, C.J Wilson, and felt that exact disconnect with Josh when news outlets reported that he had taken a massive contract with an inter-division rival that I had become incredibly annoyed with in recent years. That, paired with the fact that there seemed to be a bit of bad communication between Hamilton and Jon Daniels about the entire process really rubbed Rangers fans the wrong way. Then he opened his mouth and forever imprinted the words “baseball” and “town” with bold, taunting inflection. He made himself an enemy to a fan base that had treated as a friend, a brother, for years.
Josh Hamilton is no stranger to enemies. The ones he made in Arlington were, more than likely, baseball purists and Rangers fans who had moved past his story and were focused on his performance and what it meant for the organization. I don’t want to discount his story. His story is one of darkness, struggle, pain and a disease that I can’t even really fathom. The fact he turned it around and became this…force, really, for the Rangers was something incredible to watch. Something I remember just being absolutely blown away by. But, the story fades away for a lot of folks over time, and production for the team as a whole takes over. Results on the field begin to overshadow those away from it.
Yeah, Hamilton had made this remarkable recovery from addiction, and it appealed a whole lot to southern baptist moms ages 30-35. But not everybody spends their Sunday mornings in a pew dreaming up fantastic casseroles. Some folks want to see a team win, no matter what, and near the end of Josh’s first stint with us, it didn’t seem he was as much help to that cause as he used to be. People really turned on him, with reckless abandon, as if he were this shamed gunslinger being chased out of town by a lynch mob covered in FM Bolyar Ornate Regular ‘T’s. He was unwanted by the foes he had made here in “Baseball Town”, and would soon be feeling the same heat from adversaries he’d make in Anaheim’s front office.
Anyone with even the slightest hint of baseball know-how, however, knows that the story of Josh Hamilton’s enemies is far deeper than that. It is very well chronicled that throughout his adult life, he’s battled one of the worst enemies known to man. Addiction is a terrifying, crippling and often career ending behemoth that has been known to smite the mighty with little regard for anything else in it’s path. It’s done serious damage to a lot of those we would consider great, and Josh is no exception. It nearly cost him the game of baseball before his career even began, and has continued to have a foothold on him, as recently as last winter. It has the potential, at any time, to derail an otherwise steadfast heart, and is something that weighs heavily on the minds of anyone, or any team that’s looking to give Josh Hamilton another chance.
But, throughout this entire, long and arduous journey that is the professional baseball career of Josh Hamilton, he remains resolved to keep those demons at bay. He continues to relentlessly press forward, strive for better things, and make every opportunity worthwhile as he poises himself to return to the form he feels he’s capable of. In the words of the Colony House boys, “keep on keepin’ on.”
I’ve linked music that I’ve found tie in directly to where I’m at in the season in my last three articles. I don’t know whether or not that’s a ‘thing’ yet. Time will tell. What I do know is this: Josh Hamilton has spent the latter half of this spring getting his strength back in a Rangers uniform. He’s spent hours in batting cages, on back fields in Arizona, and on diamonds in the suburbs of Austin and Dallas, grinding out 14 hits in 41 at-bats, an AB count that is a shade under what most would face in a normal spring training. He’s edging his way closer to a big-league roster every day, in a setting he feels comfortable in, and he’s being thrust into a line-up that is finding it’s rhythm. A line-up that, from where I stand, can only benefit from the bat and glove of the 2010 American League MVP, who some would say is a former great with a mild upswing, and others would argue still has a bit of magic left to offer this team.
You’ve got a whole lot of people in Arlington ready to see what you can bring back to this ball club, Josh Hamilton. I hope, so much, that you bring us back a nice serving of crow to eat.
I’ll get the table set.