ARLINGTON, Texas – Mike Napoli spent three fewer years with the Texas Rangers than Josh Hamilton did but his homecoming trip to Texas had a much different feel.
While Hamilton was booed lustily in his return to Texas in Arlington, the fan favorite Napoli was greeted by cheers, a partial standing ovation and even a “Napoli” chant when he returned Friday at first base for Boston.
It’s just the way Napoli wanted it.
“I had two great years here, a lot of moments I’ll never forget,” said Napoli, who was struck out by Derek Holland in his first at-bat. “It’s going to be fun. I’m happy to still be playing baseball. I’m going to enjoy it and take it all in.”
It’s understandable that Napoli came to Texas in an upbeat mood, given the year he’s had with Boston. He came into Friday’s game leading the American League in RBI with 31 and doubles with 15.
Those are numbers that didn’t look like they would be attainable during an offseason in which his three year, $39-million deal with the Red Sox had to be renegotiated to a one-year pact for $5 million guaranteed because of concerns about Napoli’s hips.
But Napoli, who had a chance to sign a two-year deal with Texas, has kept things simple with Boston and it’s paid off for the first place Red Sox.
“It feels good,” he said. “I’m playing some good baseball right now and I’m just going to try and maintain it. Just do the little things to help our ball club out any way I can. Just go out and play hard the way I always have.”
After a strong first season with the Rangers in 2011, Napoli batted just .227 last year with 24 home runs and 56 RBI. He was limited to just 108 games by injuries and his numbers may have been hampered by the grind of trying to catch every day.
But with Boston this year, he’s strictly a first baseman and designated hitter. It’s been a nice change although he still said he misses catching some.
“Last year I never really felt like I do right now,” he said. “I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible. I’ve got keys I work on in the cage. Just go out there and try to keep it the same.”
Napoli spent time Friday visiting with his old teammates and signing autographs for some of his still-adoring fans at Rangers Ballpark.
The Rangers are hoping to hold him in check in this series and aren’t surprised with the kind of start he’s had with Boston.
“Right now he’s swinging the bat well,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “It’s nothing new that I haven’t seen before. He’s healthy. When he was healthy here he was tremendous. Last year he fought a lot of injuries and just could never find it.”
As for the warm reception Napoli received, that didn’t come as a shock to the Rangers either.
“He was a pro while he was here,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said.
Napoli also believes his two years in Texas helped set him up for the kind of success he’s had with Boston.
“They were important,” he said. “I came over here (Texas) and just how it was in the clubhouse, my personality I could really show in the clubhouse and get out here and be myself, be the player I could be. Not taking away from Anaheim, it was different over there than it was over here in Texas. It was awesome for me.”