Gil LeBreton

Has Rangers’ Hamilton finally reached the end?

Josh Hamilton, warming up during Tuesday’s practice, was hoping to recapture some of his past heroics and win a job with the Rangers this spring.
Josh Hamilton, warming up during Tuesday’s practice, was hoping to recapture some of his past heroics and win a job with the Rangers this spring. mfaulkner@star-telegram

On an otherwise routine Tuesday morning, while performing a singularly routine warm-up drill — jogging lightly — Josh Hamilton’s stride suddenly faltered as he neared the left-field foul line.

He slowed to a halt. Then he spread his legs, including the left one where his knee was operated upon eight months ago, and tried to stretch.

Hamilton was smiling as he talked to his Texas Rangers coaches, but then again Josh Hamilton often smiles.

Some people’s smiles can be a window to their souls. No doubt there is some of that shining in a God-fearing man such as Hamilton.

But eight spring trainings in a Rangers uniform have shown that Hamilton’s smile can also mask the pain.

Physical pain. Mental pain. Pain left over from the past.

When Hamilton reported Tuesday that he felt some discomfort in his surgically repaired left knee — after an elementary, casual speed jog, no less — the Rangers promptly scrambled the jets.

Well, one jet, actually — the one that flew Hamilton back to Houston on Tuesday night to see Dr. Walt Lowe, his orthopedic specialist.

“I don’t have any more information than that,” manager Jeff Banister said Wednesday morning. “We talked about going slow with him and felt like that’s the process we had in place.

“He felt something was not comfortable, so the best thing to do is be conservative and get him checked out.”

And so it begins. Or maybe ends.

Hamilton, whom the Rangers owe $2 million this season — with the Angels on the hook for the other (wince) $26.41 million — was in camp trying to perform another miracle, another against-the-odds comeback.

But that’s my description, not his.

When asked the other day where he felt he stood physically, eight months after the ACL reconstruction surgery, Hamilton said, “There are spurts in there at 100 percent. But that’s one thing I’m trying to manage. I’m probably doing everything at 70, 80 percent right now.”

Hamilton is always going to attract headlines. I don’t think the Rangers, however, were deceiving themselves for a minute.

“The way we’re treating Josh is that we feel he still has a lot of talent,” general manager Jon Daniels said before Tuesday’s incident. “But with his recent track record, his health is a very real concern, so we’d be silly to rush him.”

Hamilton was in camp, trying to win a job. Maybe he was going to play a little first base, maybe some left field. Maybe, as the next miracle of his sometimes stormy life, he was going to rediscover his once-powerful bat.

A brief history aside — Hamilton, who turns 36 in May, had his last notable major league season in 2012, batting .285 with 43 homers and a .930 OPS for the Rangers.

He was on crutches on this date 12 months ago and missed the entire major league season.

Even if he doesn’t run another simple “arc drill” this season, Hamilton will have banked $140 million for his late-starting major league career.

So what’s he doing here? What is he trying to prove?

“I’ve always wanted to just keep doing it,” Hamilton said, “whether it was hitting or running down a ball in the outfield. I just love to do it.”

He wants to play baseball. Or maybe he just wants to hear the cheers one last time and get some sense of closure — to leave the game on his terms, not his broken down body’s.

Thus, on an otherwise routine Tuesday morning at the Texas Rangers’ spring training camp, Josh Hamilton began a simple jog, only to slow to an early halt.

And so it ends?

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