There are few areas of life that bring out the animalistic side of people more than the world of sports. The emotion associated with the games we love and the teams we support tend to remove logic and humanity from the moment. When Josh Hamilton makes his first 2015 plate appearance in Arlington for the Texas Rangers, emotions will be high leaving one to wonder how the former hero-turned-villain will be received.
Hamilton’s departure after the 2012 season left most Rangers’ fans bitter. At the end of that season, the Rangers blew a ten game lead in the division, eventually getting swept by Oakland in the final series of the season to lose the division title.
The Texas Rangers would play only one more game that season, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in a wildcard playoff game. The decline in Hamilton’s production at the plate and his lackadaisical play in the field turned many supporters against him. He was even booed by the home crowd during his hitless performance versus Baltimore.
To make matters worse, Hamilton signed with the hated division rivals, the Los Angeles Angels, the following off-season. But what drove Rangers’ fans over the edge was comments made during a spring training television interview.
“There are true baseball fans in Texas, but it’s not a true baseball town,” said the former American League MVP. Even Hamilton’s then wife, Katie fired shots that offseason saying, “I’m so glad (the Rangers) didn’t (push hard to re-sign Hamilton.) We feel so strongly this is where God has moved us and planted us.”
There have been hard feelings between the two sides since and Rangers’ fans have enjoyed seeing Hamilton struggle while with the Angels. But is Jerry Seinfeld right in what he says in the clip below?
If anyone is put in the uniform of your favorite team, are all past sins forgiven?
The most famous athlete on the planet, NBA icon LeBron James provides an excellent case study. The Ohio native left his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to famously “take his talents” to Miami. The backlash against James in Cleveland was unlike any seen before in sports. The video below shows how bitterly Cavs’ fans reacted to James’ departure.
However, four years later James re-signed with the Cavaliers returning home to a hero’s welcome. The same fans that burned his jersey in the streets and rained down profanities on the one-time traitor, forgave all of his sins as soon as he put on the Cleveland uniform again.
Hamilton’s return to Arlington on opening day 2013 was similar to James’ first trip to Cleveland as an enemy.
Now we are left to wonder how the Texas fans will receive Hamilton when he steps onto the field in a home uniform again.
James was a hometown hero and anointed savior of Cleveland. When he left, fans felt betrayed and the insecurity of being from Cleveland, a city that has long been the subject of ridicule and jokes was worsened. If their hometown hero didn’t want to stay, how could any Clevelander feel proud of their city?
Though Hamilton is not a native Texan, the Rangers gave him a chance when he was in the baseball gutter. After years of drug and alcohol abuse, the North Carolina native was coddled by the Rangers to a point never seen before in modern sports. The Rangers gave the slugger a second (or third) chance and he resurrected his career while wearing a “T” on his cap.
Much like James and Cleveland, Hamilton’s departure and subsequent critical comments made him a pariah in the minds of many North Texas baseball fans. But one significant difference in the return of the two players is that James signed a free-agent deal to return to the Cavs while Hamilton is being traded to Texas. James wanted to return to Ohio to right a wrong. No one knows if Hamilton even wants to play for the Rangers again.
Hamilton had surgery on his arthritic right shoulder in February and is yet to play this year. He claims to be ready to resume baseball activities so his debut in the Texas lineup is imminent. It will be fascinating to see if the fans at Globe Life Park are as willing to forgive as the fans in Cleveland were.