Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton celebrates after hitting a double against… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
CINCINNATI — The Angels' season-opening trip to Cincinnati and Texas is doubling as a Josh Hamilton reunion tour.
Hamilton, a 31-year-old outfielder who signed a five-year, $125-million deal with the Angels in December, made his major league debut in Great American Ball Park almost exactly six years ago, appearing as a pinch-hitter for the Reds against the Chicago Cubs on April 2, 2007.
His first big league hit, a home run at Arizona, came eight days later. Hamilton went on to hit .292 with 19 home runs and 47 runs batted in as a rookie for the Reds, who traded him to Texas for pitcher Edinson Volquez the following winter.
Hamilton blossomed into a five-time All-Star in Texas, winning the 2010 American League most valuable player award and helping the Rangers reach the 2010 and 2011 World Series before his career there, filled with highs, ended in a cascade of boos, as the Rangers lost the AL wild-card game to Baltimore last October.
Hamilton doesn't consider the Angels' schedule a coincidence.
Hamilton was selected by Tampa Bay with the top pick of the 1999 draft but was sidetracked by cocaine and alcohol abuse. He was banned from baseball for three years and was reinstated in 2006. Upon his return, his first spring training with the Reds was in Sarasota, Fla., a few miles from the tattoo parlor where Hamilton met the people who introduced him to alcohol and cocaine.
At his introductory news conference in Anaheim in December, Hamilton noted that he "started off with the Devil Rays . . . and now I'm an Angel." So to Hamilton, the trip to Cincinnati and Texas is part of the circle of life.
"When I turned my life around, when I gave my life to the Lord — really surrendered it — He brought me back to the place where I started making mistakes in a serious way, to the Sarasota-Bradenton area," Hamilton said.
"With this first series in Cincinnati and the second one in Texas, He's bringing me back around to where I was and where He had me just to get some closure, which is pretty cool. We'll knock this out, get it over with and start rolling."
Hamilton's family resides in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Westlake.