ARLINGTON, Texas — While the boos and jeers rained down on Josh Hamilton during his return to Rangers Ballpark, he got some comforting words in the dugout.
“He said, ‘Where was Jesus got-after the most? His hometown,’ ” said the deeply religious Hamilton, who declined to name the source of inspiration. “Baseball-wise, this is my hometown.”
It certainly wasn’t a warm and fuzzy homecoming on Friday. Hamilton said he expected to get booed in his first game back as a Los Angeles Angels player, it was just a matter of how much.
Rangers fans didn’t disappoint.
Hamilton was booed during pregame introductions, through every at-bat and even while making defensive plays. He did get a standing ovation — after the first of his two strikeouts.
“Honestly, man, that was louder than any playoff game I’ve ever been to,” said Hamilton, who went 0-4 in a 3-2 loss to his former team. “I’m excited for them about that. Hopefully their fans can carry that all through the season for them.”
Hamilton spent five drama-filled seasons with the Rangers. He was cheered wildly during two runs to the World Series, including an MVP season, and was shown support despite lapses in his well-documented struggles with alcohol and substance abuse.
But he left on bad terms after a season-ending slump and a critical defensive lapse as the Rangers lost their grip on the AL West lead. He was booed in his final game as a Rangers player, the AL wild-card loss to Baltimore.
After signing with the Angels in the offseason, Hamilton further infuriated Texas fans by saying the Dallas-Fort Worth area wasn’t a true baseball town.
That’s why the giant video screen at Rangers Ballpark flashed “Welcome to Baseball Town” just before play began. Fans also chanted “Baseball Town” at Hamilton during the game.
“They paid to come to the game, and they expressed themselves how they wanted to express themselves today,” Hamilton said. “It was taken with a light heart, as far as it goes with me.”
Hamilton said before the game he made his comments about Dallas-Fort Worth fans because, back in 2008, the Rangers would have light crowds on Friday nights in September. A teammate told him it was because high school football season had started.
Although he said the Rangers’ fan base has grown since then, on that point Hamilton remained steadfast.
“I will never take back what I said until they show up every night for 30 years,” Hamilton said. “But I’m glad I can help create spirit and fire in this town.”
Some of that fire singed on Friday, Hamilton confessed.
“I’d lie to you if I said it didn’t bother me a little bit. But it didn’t, like, overwhelm me,” Hamilton said. “It’s what I expected.”
But Hamilton did say he was disappointed to find that Rangers fans are like fans anywhere else: Changing uniforms also changes loyalties.
“It probably hurts a little bit more to know that people would just turn that quickly,” Hamilton said. “You know, to think that they kind of supported you, as far as personally, [my] story, things like that. It tells you a lot.”
Hamilton did have some fun with the crowd in right field. When the “Baseball Town” chant started up again, he mimicked throwing a football and making a handoff.
“I messed with them a little bit,” Hamilton said. “You’ve got to encourage them a little bit.”
It wasn’t funny for him when he misplayed a ball hit to the corner in right field, allowing Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski to turn a double into a triple. Hamilton spent the majority of his time in Texas playing center and left fields.
“I was playing it to ride around the wall like it normally does,” Hamilton said. “And trust me, I practiced it in the pregame. It hit the one spot where it shoots back out instead of riding it out.”
Hamilton’s biggest struggles continued to be at the plate. He’s now 1-for-16 on the season, although his last two at-bats looked much better than the two strikeouts he had to start Friday’s game.
“Would you blame me for being a little anxious?” Hamilton said. “The first couple of at-bats, I had an idea of what the Rangers were going to do to you. They’ve seen what other teams have tried to do to me over the years. I had an idea what (starting pitcher) Derek (Holland) was going to try to do.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Hamilton seemed to be drawing off the atmosphere of the game.
“He understands the situation. He understands the way some of the fans feel,” Scioscia said. “I’ll tell you one thing, they definitely showed passion, that’s for sure.”
Hamilton said his only concern was that his family was treated well in the stands. His family still lives in Texas and he plans to continue living here, no matter how he’s treated during baseball season.
Some fans held up newspapers during Hamilton’s first at-bat, in a show of mock indifference, while others resorted to more personal attacks.
“I got worn out just as good today as I have anywhere else. I’ve been chanted ‘crackhead’ before in Yankee Stadium and places like that,” said Hamilton, before chuckling. “They had a little chant going at one point, once the alcohol got flowing good.”