To Hamilton, early reunions no coincidence
Opening week will see the newest Angels star return to both Cincinnati and Texas
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Josh Hamilton is asked if he believes in fate.
"Hmm," he says, rubbing his right hand on his chin, staring down at the clubhouse floor and swaying. "Good question."
And then the God-fearing, enigmatic outfielder finds his answer.
"It's like this," Hamilton starts, "God's got a perfect plan for you. And along the way, you'll take a detour here or there. But ultimately, if you know Him, if you have a relationship with Him, you'll end up where you're supposed to be. I hate using the word 'fate,' but I don't believe in coincidences."
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This is a guy who noted that he "started out as a Devil Ray, and now I'm an Angel" in his opening news conference. This is a guy who believes everything that happens was pre-determined by a higher power. This is a guy who looks at the start of the Angels' 2013 season -- with a trip to Cincinnati, where his re-emergence began six years ago, then to Texas, where he finally lived up to his promise for the next half-decade -- and can't help but laugh.
"It's not a coincidence," he says. "It's just not."
And so Hamilton's career with the Angels, who signed him to a $125 million deal in December, will begin as a reunion tour.
On Monday, the Angels will become the first American League team to open in a National League city, and Hamilton will return to Great American Ball Park for the first time since his rookie season in 2007.
There, he'll be beloved.
On April 5, the scene shifts to Texas, where Hamilton made five straight All-Star Game starts from 2008-12, went to two consecutive World Series and then watched it all fade away at the end -- his swing, his championship hopes, his stock in Fort Worth.
There, he could be greeted with jeers.
"God takes you back to places where you've been and where he's brought you out of to remind you of what he's brought you through," Hamilton said. "I think it's pretty cool that we're in Cincinnati and Texas. Because Cincinnati is a reminder of where I was at that time and what it took to get back, what I had to do. And the biggest thing I had to do was surrender -- everything, every aspect of my life. And so then, going to Texas, totally different chapter of my life. It's just pretty cool to get it out of the way. And it being back-to-back ... yeah, I don't think it's a coincidence."
Hamilton thinks back to his days with the Reds, who got him in a pre-arranged deal with the Cubs, who had selected him in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft. He sees destiny everywhere.
Back then, Spring Training was in Sarasota, Fla., near the Bradenton area where Hamilton -- a rehabbing Minor Leaguer looking to fill the empty space -- went from the No. 1 overall pick in 1999 to an addict who missed nearly four full seasons. His first Major League game came against the Cubs, who were managed by Lou Piniella -- skipper of the Rays while Hamilton's life and career spiraled.
"It's funny to think about everything that's playing out," Hamilton said, "and how God knows what's going to happen before it happens."
Mounted on a wall in Hamilton's sprawling Westlake, Texas, mansion, is a picture of that first Major League plate appearance on April 2, 2007. Hamilton is crouched in his stance, smiling wide, and Reds fans are standing in applause as part of an ovation that lasted 22 seconds.
"I'm a little anxious to see how Cincinnati responds," Hamilton said. "I mean, everybody I've always talked to, as far as fans from Cincinnati, it's, 'We wish you were still there.' And then I say, 'You guys traded me.'"
On Dec. 21, 2007, after a season in which he batted .292 with 19 homers and 47 RBIs in 90 games, the Reds dealt Hamilton to the Rangers for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera.
And that's when his story got better.
Hamilton established himself as one of the game's premier outfielders and wrote a chapter fit for Hollywood -- one that Casey Affleck is working on right now. He posted a .305/.363/.549 batting line, won an AL Most Valuable Player Award, helped take the franchise to a new level and accomplished historic feats, most notably 28 homers in the first round of the 2008 Home Run Derby and a four-homer game in Baltimore last May.
But there were two alcohol-related setbacks, occasional mental lapses, a second-half slump in 2012, a key dropped fly ball in Oakland on the final day of the '12 regular season, an offseason departure to the division rivals and, most recently, comments about the Dallas area not being "a true baseball town."
Hamilton was asked if it would hurt to get booed at Rangers Ballpark.
"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," he continued. "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."
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.