CINCINNATI — Josh Hamilton won’t forget Cincinnati.
And Cincinnati won’t forget him, either.
Hamilton returned to Cincinnati on Opening Day, only this time he was wearing a Los Angeles Angels’ jersey.
It was the first time in six years was playing in Great American Ball Park.
“It’s awesome,” Hamilton said of his return. “The Lord brings me back where he brought me from and brought me through. It’s reminders of look where you were, look where you are now and I think it’s cool that we start the year with Cincinnati and then we go to Texas, just to remind you that these were seasons of your life and they were good seasons of your life and now it’s time to move to a different one. I’m excited to be back.”
Hamilton signed with the Angels on De. 15 as a free agent. That came after spending five years with the Texas Rangers.
Hamilton, coming off nearly four years out of baseball because of suspensions for drug abuse, made his comeback in 2007 with Cincinnati.
It was Opening Day in 2007 that he’ll never forget.
“I’ll always remember the first at-bat, obviously, on Opening day,” Hamilton said. “For the fans to stand and give me the ovation they did, it’s special, and will always be special. I had nothing vested in the town or the team because I hadn’t played here before. It showed me a lot about the character of the town as a baseball community, to not only appreciate the game of baseball, but life, too, and the story.”
In 2007 with the Reds Hamilton hit .292 with 19 home runs and 47 RBIs. He was limited to 298 at-bats because of two stints on the disabled list, including a sprained right wrist.
Still, not bad for a guy who spent the better part of the last four years trying to come up with ways to pump more drugs into his body.
Hence, the 2007 season in Cincinnati was a turning point for Hamilton and his life.
“I learned how to be a professional and was around a group of guys and a veteran staff of guys like (Ken) Griffey, (Adam) Dunn, (David) Weathers and (Mike) Stanton, a lot of guys who were around a long time. I was right where I needed to be to make that transition and comeback. The fans were great and I always enjoyed spending time there. It’ll be fun to play here.
“I enjoyed my year here and it was the beginning of everything that’s happened so far in my career and it’s always going to hold a special place in my heart. It’s always fun to come back to places where you begin.”
Then, after the 2007 season, the Reds, fearful that Hamilton’s body would break down and in dire need of pitching, they sent him to Texas for Danny Herrera and Edinson Volquez.
Hamilton said he didn’t look back at the deal.
‘’It was more thankfulness and appreciation for the Reds taking the chance with me more than it was, ‘I can’t believe that they traded me,” Hamilton said. “It felt like it was part of the journey and I was where I was supposed to be for that year. When I got the call that I was traded, I was expecting my wife to freak out, but she didn’t. She had total peace about it, which I was totally surprised. So, again, I knew it was from the Lord. It was a great time here.”
In 2008 Hamilton bashed the ball with the Rangers. He hit .305 with 34 home runs and 130 RBIs. After a down year in 2009 because of abdominal surgery, he rebounded with his MVP year in 2010.
In 2010 he hit .359 with 32 home runs and 100 RBIs.
Last year in Texas he batted .285 with 43 home runs and 128 RBIs.
Hamilton said he was looking forward to hitting in G.A.B.P. again. He ended up Monday going 0 for 4, but did make a nice diving grab in right field.
The fans also gave up him a nice round of applause in the pregame introductions.
“The nickname is the Great American Small Park,” he said. “It is what it is. It plays well. It’s been six years, almost to the day, so I’ll have to refresh myself with the walls and the corners. But it doesn’t play big. … I’m excited about it.”
FIRST PITCH: World Baseball Classic Team USA manager Joe Torre threw out the first pitch. Torre threw a strike to Brandon Phillips.
OPENING DAY: The Reds had their two-game Opening Day winning streak snapped. Monday was the Reds’ 137th Opening Day game and the first interleague Opening Day game in Major League Baseball history. The Reds are 66-70-1 in Opening Days, including 4-7 at the Great American Ball Park.
BACK AT THE MIC: Marty Brennaman broadcasted his 40th straight Opening Day game.
MARATHON: The Reds’ 13-inning game on Monday was the longest home opener since 1975 when the Dodgers won, 2-1, in 14 innings. The last extra-inning game on Opening Day was 1990 when Houston won 8-4 in 11 innings. Monday’s game went four hours and 45 minutes.
CUETO’S STRIKEOUTS: Reds starter Johnny Cueto struck out nine in seven innings. It was the most by a Reds pitcher on Opening Day since Mario Soto struck out 10 in 1982 against the Cubs.