For five seasons, Hamilton had been a beloved Texas Ranger, a five-time All-Star, a 2010 AL MVP, a driving force behind the 2010 and 2011 World Series campaigns and an inspiration for recovering drug addicts, Christians and anyone who ever needed a second chance.
But, in his first game back at Rangers Ballpark since signing with the AL West archrival Angels, Hamilton was far from being warmly welcomed back.
No. 32 had become Public Enemy No. 1.
"I'd lie to you if I said it didn't bother me a little bit, but it didn't overwhelm me to (the point of) . 'Get me out of the lineup. I can't stand it,'" Hamilton said after the game.
The stadium shook with five stories of lusty boos when he was introduced, when he came to bat and when he got near the ball in right field. Some fans attempted the more peaceful protest, Silence4Josh, but quickly joined the crass chorus.
A few fans wore Hamilton's No. 32 Rangers jersey with custom changes, such as a duct-taped "X" across the back, "Traitor" in black tape where "Hamilton" used to be, or David Warhoftig's retooled "HamBUM" jersey.
"I used to love the guy but I can't believe he ended the season the way he did, left the way he did and went where he did," said Warhoftig, 43, of Frisco, Texas. "He could've gone anywhere but the Angels."
Warhoftig booed Hamilton at every opportunity. So did Nancy Carson, 72, a grandmother who was waving a "Josh Who Cares?" sign.
They also cheered when Hamilton whiffed the first time and every time after in his miserable 0-for-4 day. The whole stadium did.
The display was mean-spirited and loud and so much more primal than the celebrations the crowd had when Adrian Beltre belted a solo home run in the seventh inning or when the Rangers' locked up the 3-2 victory.
"It probably hurts a little bit more to know that people would just turn that quickly," said Hamilton, somberly.
He looked shell-shocked after the game, a stark contrast to the quick-stepping, black-Ostrich-boots-wearing Hamilton who arrived in the morning, full of confidence, jokes and smiles.
Before the game, Hamilton, who makes his permanent residence in the Dallas suburb of Westlake, had embraces for the clubbies, the ushers, the security guards whom he remembered even though he was completely unfamiliar with being in the visitors clubhouse or coming out of the visitors dugout.
He signed autographs for people, including Rangers fan Matt Bell, 18, who wore a Hamilton T-shirt, a red-spiked wig and nylon sleeves made to look like flame-tattooed forearms of his all-time favorite player.
Before Hamilton took his first cuts in batting practice, he walked behind the plate to visit Rangers fans Amber McDonald, 19, and her father Dwayne of Coppell, Texas.
Amber met Hamilton while playing Miracle League baseball. Because of Hamilton, she chose to play the outfield. For the past two Rangers home openers, she gave Hamilton a hug.
"Make it a third," she said. "I just saw Josh and said I missed him."
"I miss you, too," Hamilton told her, embracing her in one of the day's more pleasant reunions.
Katie Hamilton, who sat in the stands with daughters, Julia, Sierra and Michaela, got bothered by a few fans' comments, ignored the boos but said "there were also two nice Rangers fans who said they appreciated what he had done for the Rangers."
And there were cheers.
"Really?" Josh Hamilton asked.
"Oh, yeah, when I was on deck, there were like three little kids yelling, 'Hey, Josh, we miss you.'"
But the homecoming turned harsh and hostile as Rangers fans made sure to punish Hamilton for his late-2012 slump and his early spring training comments that the Dallas-Fort Worth area was "not a true baseball town."
In the late innings, the crowd chanted "Crackhead," and in the ninth, "Baseball Town." He was feeling the Texas heat everywhere he went.
He was getting beat up at the plate, wrestling through just 10 pitches, going 0 for 4 and striking out twice on Rangers left-hander Derek Holland's sliders.
"Would you blame me for being a little anxious?" said Hamilton, who also admitted he was "a little jumpy."
He was getting worked for nine long and loud innings, playing through on the road, feeling unwelcomed and praying for peace.
©2013 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
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