Friday, April 5, 2013
Last year's collapse still lingers with fans
By Richard Durrett
ARLINGTON, Texas -- It was Opening Day on Friday. The start of a new year. A chance to re-establish our relationship with baseball, one that is certainly sensory. My co-host on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM middays (see how I got that plug in there?), Ian Fitzsimmons, chuckled Friday morning at the idea that seeing the grass and the field as soon as you walk in the park sets the mood for you and makes the game an intimate one to be shared. But it's the truth.
Still, as the 2013 season begins in earnest, about a dozen fans I talked to on my way up to the press box were still hung up on last year. And they blame one guy over everyone else: Josh Hamilton.
Friday was the first chance for those fans to voice their displeasure and they did it in a big way in his first at-bat. The boos were deafening and those that had hoped to see a sellout crowd give Hamilton the silent treatment -- some even held up signs that read "Silence" -- couldn't stop it. If there were cheers, I couldn't hear them. At least until Hamilton saw his first strike. And once he struck out -- on a 1-2 slider -- the ballpark erupted in cheers.
It struck me as an interesting turn of events. Hamilton's final at-bat in a Ranger uniform and his first at-bat in an Angel uniform were the same -- a strikeout, including a weak wave at a breaking pitch out of the strike zone. His last one in Texas, back in October, earned boos. The one Friday earned cheers louder than any boos I heard.
So did the fans get it right? I can tell you that I talked to a group of them before the game and all nearly all of them said the same thing: He quit on the team. They booed someone they felt quit on them Friday, not the guy who helped them to two straight World Series. If it were me, I'd have clapped when he was introduced in pregame and booed during the game. Why? The clapping is for what he did for this club in his five seasons here. They don't get to consecutive World Series without Hamilton's big bat in that key spot in the lineup. That deserves recognition and cheering, if you ask me.
But the boos are for last year and how things ended. There was nothing to cheer on that front. Hamilton became the face of the collapse. He missed a critical road trip because of some vision problems that were eventually diagnosed as something he could take care of by reducing his consumption of coffee and energy drinks. He dropped the fly ball in Oakland, saying he messed up after the game, but admitted that he wasn't in the proper athletic position to make the catch. Not in the right position to make a catch in Game 162? Strange. And then Hamilton was 0-for-4 and saw a total of eight pitches in the AL wild-card game. It was a terrible ending for Hamilton and the team.
Fans have a right to do whatever they want when they pay good money to go to these games. And on Friday, most of them decided booing was the way to go. It's understandable. But now it's time for Ranger fans to move on to 2013. Maybe this year's team can erase last year's disappointment. Maybe Lance Berkman can help Ranger fans forget about Hamilton. Looks like they aren't too upset he's out of town now anyway. But they sure haven't forgotten about him yet.