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Safe at home? Hamilton back with Texas Rangers in what could be his last chance in baseball

05/09/2015 11:18 EDT | Updated 05/09/2016 05:59 EDT
ARLINGTON, Texas - Josh Hamilton knows in hindsight that he probably should have never left Texas.

When the slugger was first acquired by the Rangers from Cincinnati a few days before Christmas in 2007, a feel-good story got even better: The former No. 1 overall draft pick became an MVP and perennial All-Star after battling cocaine and alcohol addictions, even with a few stumbles.

Now he has another shot at redemption, again in Texas, in what very likely could be his last chance in baseball.

"The reason I'm making certain changes in my life is because I want to be OK after baseball's over," Hamilton said when re-introduced by Texas. "So I've done a lot of growing and a lot of learning and soul-searching, as you could say, over the past few weeks. I'm excited about being a Ranger."

Hamilton is near an MLB reunion with the team he shunned after the 2012 season for a big free agent contract with AL West rival Los Angeles. The Angels last month traded him back for little in return after two disappointing seasons and the recent off-season that included not only shoulder surgery but a self-reported relapse with cocaine and alcohol.

"If you're comfortable and you can be at home and relax, but go to the field and still feel like you're at home when you get there, that's pretty important," said Hamilton, who went to extended spring training in Arizona before joining Triple-A Round Rock. "I love the guys on my team in LA. ... But it was LA. It wasn't Texas. It was just really different."

On Friday, he went 1 for 5 with a three-run homer while playing five innings in left field against Seattle minor leaguers. He was expected to join Round Rock on Sunday.

On Thursday, Texas manager Jeff Banister said, "He goes from live BP's to game situations, but is being put through a litany of drills, as far as outfield work, throwing program, base-running drills, live BP and game situations.

Things won't be exactly the same as they were in Texas, where Hamilton was the 2010 American League MVP and an All-Star in each of his five seasons.

Hamilton earlier this year filed for divorce, and court records indicate that he is prohibited from going to the couple's home in North Texas or seeing their daughters without supervision.

And the Rangers, who made their only two World Series appearances and were coming off a wild-card loss before Hamilton left, are struggling near the bottom of the league for the second year in a row. There is a new manager Banister, after Ron Washington's unexpected resignation late last season for personal reasons.

This is a low-risk deal for Texas, which is paying only about $6 million of the $80 million still owed to Hamilton through 2017 on that $125 million, five-year contract from the Angels. Plus, the Rangers don't expect the player who turns 34 on May 21 to have the same mind-boggling numbers he once had for them.

In his 2008 Texas debut, Hamilton had an AL-leading 130 RBIs and a jaw-dropping 28 home runs in one round during the All-Star Home Run Derby at old Yankee Stadium. During his MVP season, when the Rangers went to their first World Series in 2010, he led the majors with a .359 batting average, 23 points higher than the next highest, along with 32 homers and 100 RBIs.

Hamilton's career-high 43 homers in 2012 included four in one night at Baltimore. He was the 16th player with a four-homer game, an MLB feat rarer than perfect games (23).

"He's been kind of a central figure in some of the best moments in the franchise history, recent history," Texas general manager Jon Daniels said. "I think the game can help him at this point, but the big picture for him obviously is beyond the game ... whenever it is that he's done playing, where he is at that point. Obviously, that's a lot more important than the baseball piece."

The top pick in baseball's 1999 amateur draft by Tampa Bay, Hamilton had never tried alcohol or cocaine before he got hurt in a March 2001 car accident and was on the disabled list in the minors. He didn't play from July 2002 through 2005 because of substance-abuse issues that led to multiple suspensions and rehab stints. His major league debut was with the Reds in 2007.

There were two known alcohol relapses while with the Rangers, both during the off-season. Hamilton acknowledged being photographed getting drunk in a bar in Arizona in early 2009, and three years later apologized for another night of drinking.

"I know (addiction) is something he's going to deal with the rest of his life, and by association, we're going to help him deal with," said Daniels, calling that a benefit but not the reason for reacquiring Hamilton.

"It's 100 per cent about that we think Josh can help us win games," the GM said. "He can be a productive player again.

Hamilton hit .305 with 152 homers and 506 RBIs in five seasons as a Ranger, but was lustily booed in his last game - like he was later when returning with the Angels. The slugger struck out twice on three pitches and grounded into a double play in a home loss to Baltimore in the 2012 AL wild-card game. That came after 18 strikeouts in the last 10 regular-season games, and a dropped routine popup in the finale that allowed Oakland to go ahead to stay and clinch the division title that day.

After Hamilton's self-reported relapse before this season, a board representing both Major League Baseball and the players' association split on whether Hamilton violated his treatment program. An arbitrator then ruled that MLB could not discipline him.

Hamilton said he is being tested five times a week for drugs and now alcohol. He also has back the support system that had been removed or pushed away from his life, including Shayne Kelley, who again will be a constant companion.

Kelley, a former minor league strength coach for the Kansas City Royals, was with Hamilton his final season in Texas and first year with the Angels. He was as assistant coach at Alabama, his alma mater, when hired by Texas in 2012 as a major league assistant whose job included supporting Hamilton. Kelley won't be on the field or in uniform this time.

Daniels described Hamilton as being "very eager" in Arizona, asking to do more than was planned for him each day. The shoulder seemed to be 100 per cent healthy, and the outfielder is on track to get back in the majors later this month.

"I know how much baseball means to Josh. I know that Josh loves the game," said Michael Young, Hamilton's teammate with the Rangers and now a special assistant for the team. "He's really burning for an opportunity to show exactly what he's made of."

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AP freelance writer Mark Didtler in St. Petersburg, Florida, contributed to this report.

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