Gil LeBreton

Rangers fans welcome Hamilton home to ‘Baseball Town’

All the signs were positive for Josh Hamilton in his return to Arlington on Thursday night.
All the signs were positive for Josh Hamilton in his return to Arlington on Thursday night. Star-Telegram

Josh Hamilton came home Thursday night.

Home to where his major league career first blossomed. Home to where he first raised his young daughters.

Home to Arlington, a baseball town.

They cheered loudly for Hamilton when he was introduced before his first at-bat. Many stood. The applause grew as Hamilton, visibly moved by the ovation, paused and lightly tipped his helmet before settling into the batter’s box.

For an instant, Globe Life Park was like a time machine. Hamilton, wearing his old No. 32 in a Texas Rangers uniform.

Hamilton, lining the first pitch he saw into the right-field corner for a stand-up double.

His grin was noticeable as he stood on second base. His teammates, old and new, came to the top step of the dugout and cheered.

In a Rangers season that has struggled for memorable moments, this one was as scrapbook-worthy as they’ve come. Later Hamilton would single and drive in the home team’s only run in a 5-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Can he still hit? Can he stay sober? Rangers fans know as well as anyone that only time will tell.

But some questions were answered Thursday night. Will Rangers fans forgive Hamilton for the theatrics that surrounded his free-agent departure? Will they accept him again, after the bridges that had seemingly been burned?

Manager Jeff Banister addressed those answers after the game.

“That was outstanding,” Banister said. “I was proud for our fans, and happy for Josh.”

Before the game, Hamilton had complained of a nagging cough and sniffles.

“That’s when you have some of your best games, when you’re a little sick,” he said. “You seem to focus more and try not to do too much.”

In late afternoon, he said he had no idea how the Texas fans would receive him.

Hamilton has always contended that his line, delivered after signing with the Angels, about this not being a “baseball town” was misunderstood. He regrets saying it.

The reception that followed, however, was more welcoming than anyone could have expected.

“It was a good feeling,” he said. “I appreciate it a lot.

“You don’t know what to expect, and to hear the fans cheer and stand, it means a lot. It brought back some good memories.”

As he drove to the ball park Thursday, Hamilton said he was flooded with memories from his first five seasons in Texas.

“Any time I see the stadium,” he said, “it’s good memories. I always love driving in. I come in on Lamar and drive up on Ballpark Way, drive by the hotel, and you can just see the ballpark, and it’s green all around. I’ve always loved to do that.

“Just the memories of the good times out here. I’m going to try very hard as a player and a teammate and somebody who works in the organization to create some more good memories.”

Banister said that the early signs have been positive.

“The barometer for me was yesterday,” Banister said. “First, when he bounced off the wall and he got up. The reception he got from the rest of the players, all 24 of them, was special.

“Then when he got the hit, to see the smile on his face and, again, the reception from each one of those guys, speaks volumes to me of how they feel about him.”

As for the sniffles and coughing, Banister said, “I’ve seen a lot of sick players do a lot of magical things.”

There was no magic, however, Thursday night. Boston rookie Eduardo Rodriguez took care of that.

But in a season that has been shy on memorable moments for the Rangers, Josh Hamilton’s first night “home” — home where he played on two World Series teams, home where he first raised his daughters — was one to build on.

“It’ll be a game I remember forever,” he said.

A good baseball town like Arlington saw to that.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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