ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers should have been selling red herrings at the souvenir stand. Josh Hamilton says this is not a baseball town, and tens of thousands of actual adults lay in wait for him, hiding behind those words to unleash wave upon wave of fury and indignation.
Baseball town, football town, whatever. Hamilton took the money and ran off with the Angels. Boo him if you like — and the sellout crowd at the Rangers’ home opener booed him hostilely on Friday during a 3-2 Texas win — but at least be honest about it.
Of course this is a football town. No knock on the Rangers. The Dallas Cowboys have sold out every game since 1990. But Hamilton says this is a football town and stirs up such a nasty streak among the locals that he calls the response “an absolute nightmare.”
That was before Friday’s game. Little did he know what he had coming.
The fans who urged “Silence for Josh” to punish him — a real movement, with T-shirts and hashtag and all — had no chance. Some held newspapers in front of their faces, as if to block the view of Hamilton. Others turned their backs on home plate as he batted.
But the boos were long, loud and unmerciful. The fans did not stop when he stepped into the batter’s box, or after his first at-bat.
They cheered each strike — and there were plenty of those; Hamilton struck out in his first two at-bats — then resumed the boos. When Hamilton returned to the dugout after each out — he went 0 for 4 — he got a standing ovation.
As the fans above right field serenaded him with chants of “Baseball Town,” he pretended to pass a football their way. After the game, rather than back away from his statement, he doubled down on it, defiantly.
“I will never take back what I said until they show up every night for 30 years,” Hamilton said.
As he got rolling, he all but baited the fans who will greet him here Saturday and Sunday, and again in July, and again on the final weekend of the regular season, maybe with the American League West title on the line.
“I’m glad I can help create spirit and fire in this town,” Hamilton said. “This was louder than any playoff game that I’ve ever been to.”
At first, he would not admit that the booing was worse than he expected.
“Do you want me to say yes?” he said. “Is that going to work for your story?”
Then he basically said yes, acknowledging his anxiety at bat and sounding a bit stunned to hear the same “Crack Head” chants here that he has heard at Yankee Stadium. These were the fans, he thought, who embraced him after his odyssey of drug abuse and redemption.
“It probably hurts a little more to know people will turn that quickly,” Hamilton said. “To think they kind of supported you … tells you a lot.”
His football-town comments outraged Rangers fans on social media, and they were itchy to point out how Hamilton’s career here ended: missing games because of addictions to chewing tobacco and caffeine; getting called out by team President Nolan Ryan for swinging at bad pitches; dropping a fly ball in the game that cost the Rangers the AL West; going hitless in the game that ended their season.
All true. Add the perception that Hamilton reneged on giving the Rangers a last chance before he signed elsewhere — a promise Hamilton said he never made — and the fuel for boos was plentiful.
Hamilton has his own issues for now, with one hit and eight strikeouts in 16 at-bats this season. Rangers fans ought to deal with their issues, at least those fans who blasted Hamilton for saying this is not a baseball town and then signing with the Angels.
No doubt Anaheim was not a baseball town until the Angels won the World Series in 2002. But the Angels have sold 3 million tickets every year since then.
The Rangers’ streak of consecutive years with 3 million tickets sold? That would be one.