TEMPE, Ariz. — Josh Hamilton couldn’t escape the boos last season, no matter how hard he tried. He heard them on the road, but worse, he heard them in his own ballpark — in Angel Stadium, where he thought they would commiserate.
His first season with the Angels — at least the first four months — was a disaster, and the fans let him know. He dreaded running to his position in right field, and he dreaded making an out.
There was no forgiveness, not for a player who had signed a $125-million contract over five years. They wanted more, but Hamilton simply didn’t have it.
"It was disappointing," he said Monday, "because as a player you want your home fans to cheer for you. When you come home to your park, you’re supposed to feel relaxed and confident. You get worn out on the road, and I’m used to that, but to come home and (hear) the opposing fans, it was non-stop. I never got a break."
Hamilton calls last season part of a learning process: new team, new contract, new expectations. He swung and missed, but he arrived in spring training this week feeling considerably better and stronger.
He added bulk to his body by consuming between 5,000 and 7,000 calories a day. He did a lot of weight lifting. He hired a nutritionist. There is plenty of meat, fish and chicken in his diet, but bread too, he said, because it helps his joints
"This is as strong as I’ve felt in probably three or four years," he said. "I did a lot of lifting. I’m eating as many calories as I can. It kind of sucks because I’m eating all day."
The weight issue is one that Hamilton figured wrong. He arrived in camp last spring weighing 227 pounds, far fewer than the 250 he carried at the start of each season with the Texas Rangers. He assumed he needed to weigh less because the summers in Anaheim arenât as draining as they are in Arlington, Texas.
Instead, less weight might have cost him power and production. By the end of the season, he was 212, and his numbers were distinctly un-Hamilton-like: a .250 average, 21 home runs (down from 43 in 2012 with the Rangers) and 79 RBI.
All that saved him was strong finish. From Aug. 9 on, he hit .329 and drove in 28.
This week, Hamilton reported at 240 pounds, most of it muscle.
"I don’t know if it’s adding extra weight," manager Mike Scioscia said of the difference. "It’s getting his weight where it was. He came in really light last year because he was trying a different diet. Whether it affected him or not, we can only speculate. But he’s back to the weight that he’s played at for a long time, and hopefully it’ll spark him to get back to where he needs to be."
If nothing else, Hamilton wants to turn the boos to rousing cheers. He struggled to fight through the tough times, he admitted, relying on a Christian faith that has carried him through drug and alcohol addictions in his past.
But sometimes even that was difficult.
"It’s not enough," he said. "The human aspect of things gets in the way. You can’t help but feel a little stressed or anxiety or fear. As far as my faith goes, I’m supposed to give it all to Him. A lot of times when you go through those tough situations, you try to pull those things back and take care of it yourself, which makes things worse and makes it last longer."
Scioscia said he’s hopeful Hamilton can draw on his success over the last couple of months of last season, when his rhythm at the plate was in synch. Watching video comparing last season to his time in Texas, Hamilton noticed he wasn’t driving through the ball with his hips as he once did.
"He finished strong, which is important," Scioscia said. "The issue with Josh is that he’s a rhythm hitter who relies on timing, and it was something he was searching for for a long time during the season.
This is as strong as I’ve felt in probably three or four years
"When he found it as the season got into the second half, you started to see some of the things he will do when he finds his rhythm and his comfort zone."
No one has greater expectations than Hamilton, who has set goals this season of a .300 average, 30 homers and 100 RBI. That’s something he never did in the past.
"For a couple of years I felt I can’t put goals on myself because you limit yourself and once you get there you kind of relax," he said. "But it’s good to set goals. It’s good having your mind where you want to be and where you want to end up. If you get farther and get more than that, it’s great."