When Josh Hamilton signed with the Rangers this offseason, we all had the same hopes for one last hurrah, after his attempted comeback in 2016 resulted in a missed season.
Rangers fans, much like most baseball fans (outside of Anaheim), have memory banks full of Herculean memories of Josh; the 2008 home run derby, the 2010 MVP, the 2011 game 6 home run, the 2012 4-bomb game in Baltimore. For several seasons, Hamilton wasn’t just a baseball player, he was The Natural embodied, he was a Disney movie occurring before our very eyes, he was a storybook waiting for a beautiful ending.
Unfortunately, not all stories have that perfect conclusion.
For the moment, it seems as if Hamilton has dodged a bullet, with his trip to Houston revealing that there is no major damage in his knee from the “funny feeling” he had in it earlier this week. However, this emergency trip probably gives us insight into what we can realistically expect from Josh this season.
To put it bluntly; nothing.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope Josh Hamilton eases into a first base/DH role and is able to stay on the field. I hope that he can gain back even 50% of that previous magic.
But in all reality, that’s probably not happening.
The way the Texas Rangers fan base looks at Josh Hamilton is absolutely unique. There is the rose colored glasses camp, that understands that Josh will forever be a Texas legend, but is unwilling to admit that he is no longer that player, with the years of damage to his body limiting his ability to even stay on the field. Then there is the “Josh is a traitor” camp, who is unwilling to forgive a regretful press conference he had with his now ex-wife when he left town, and who only focuses on that dropped fly ball in game 2012 game 162.
Somehow, some way, we all need to figure out how to live in the middle.
Do both camps have some validity to their thought process? Absolutely. But, as a whole, we need to take some thoughts from both.
Camp one is absolutely correct; Josh Hamilton is and forever will be a Texas Rangers legend. For a few seasons, Josh was the greatest player Texas had ever seen, taking the franchise to places it had never been, and, if Nelly Cruz had caught a fly ball, his 2011 Game 6 home run would be the greatest moment in franchise history as well as one of the iconic moments in the anthology of Major League Baseball.
Camp two is correct in having doubts, they are correct in being hurt, but are incredibly incorrect in being unwilling to forgive Josh and diminish the importance of the things he did while here the first time.
When we combine the two, Rangers’ fans must understand that despite his previous expectations, all thoughts of Josh moving forward must be tempered by an unfortunate dose of realism.
The correct way to think of it is that anything Josh Hamilton contributes to the 2017 Texas Rangers is a bonus. Any hit, any RBI, any homerun should be treated as if it’s an unexpected bonus, rather than the previous expected performance. The man’s body is done. He was too hard on it for too long, first off of the field, then by going full speed at all times once he worked his way back onto it.
Even if he makes the roster, it can be easily assumed that Josh will spend a good portion of the season on the disabled list (maybe he and Choo can just take turns combine forces to form a full season DH). The idea that Josh will come back, be the 2010 version of himself, and complete the story book ending of leading the Rangers to finally getting that ring is too far-fetched for anyone to consider at this point.
There can still be a happy ending to this Josh Hamilton movie, but perhaps it isn’t the one we all expected. Maybe being around the Rangers clubhouse, reconnecting with old friends and teammates, and being welcomed home on a daily basis by a fan base who once adored him is all Josh needs to remain sober and continue to deal with the stress of his divorce. Maybe Josh’s voice is the one Matt Bush needs to hear when the temptation to drink arises during the course of the season.
Maybe the happy ending to the Josh Hamilton story is not one that we see in the boxscore, but one that echoes in the everyday life of other human beings.
And I’m OK with that.
Maybe it’s time would all should be.