Driving into the Surprise Recreation Campus is nothing new for Josh Hamilton, who has probably done it more than 200 times in his career.
But the drive he made Tuesday morning was different.
“Today’s the first day of the beginning of something good,” he said. “I’m excited about it.”
Also different was that he worked out for the first time this year in a cap and pullover that had a team’s logo on it. And, gasp, he had been issued a locker.
“It feels goooood,” Hamilton said.
Though Hamilton had been working out in Houston during his recovery from Feb. 4 shoulder surgery, he felt like a ballplayer again on his first day back with the Texas Rangers.
He didn’t feel that during the tumultuous end to his stay with the Los Angeles Angels, who started to show their discontent with him before his relapse with drugs.
“I would agree with that,” he said. “I remember doing my physical therapy in Houston, we’d drive past the ballpark every day, and I remember a couple times making the comment that I felt so removed from the game.
“Removed from a game that I wasn’t ready to be removed from. But I really feel blessed and like it was like a miracle to end up back here.”
In the 11 weeks after his operation — followed by the Angels not issuing him a spring locker, the relapse and Angels owner Arte Moreno’s campaign to get rid of him — Hamilton was in baseball purgatory.
He didn’t know where or when or if he was going to play again. Now that he has a baseball home, he has no shortage of motivation to prove himself again.
“I know I haven’t been the player I’m capable of being the last two years,” Hamilton said. “I tried and fought hard to be that guy in an Angels uniform. I felt like I owed that to them, and I was ready to come back and be that guy.
“Yes, I’m hungry.”
On Tuesday, he was also tired. He woke at 3:30 a.m. CDT to catch a flight to Phoenix, and he arrived here shortly after 9 a.m. MST. He was on the field just before 10 a.m. for some throwing and conditioning work, then headed to the batting cages to hit off a tee. And after spending 15 minutes with the media, he hit the weight room.
As he was walking from the conditioning field to the cages, a San Diego Padres minor-leaguer who was readying for an extended-spring road game stopped him for a photo, and two others also had their picture made.
“It was a good feeling,” Hamilton said. “The biggest thing it reminded me of is where I was at one time and what a long road it’s been and the ups and downs, good and bad.”
Hamilton expects to have another light day Wednesday before seeing his workouts become more intense over his final eight days in Surprise. The biggest thing missing, he believes, is getting used to being on metal spikes again for hours at a time.
Hamilton will likely join Triple A Round Rock for rehab games and be activated from the 15-day disabled list no sooner than mid-May. He turns 34 on May 21.
“I’m sure they have a plan for me,” he said. “And I’m sure I’ll fight them some.”
Hamilton has some fight in him after not knowing for certain where, when or if he would be playing again this year. But Tuesday, the biggest thing is that he felt like a ballplayer again.
He even had a locker. He knows he has a baseball home.
“It definitely feels like I’m back home,” he said. “The comfort level is there.
“... It was tough the past 11 weeks or so. Everything that was transpiring was tough. It’s good to have something that’s been consistent in my life, since I can remember, back in it. It’s going to be fun the next few days to be out there and do more and more every day.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760