By John Perrotto
Josh Hamilton sat in a chair in front of his locker chatting with teammate C.J. Wilson and looking as comfortable as someone could possibly be while having his ribcage wrapped in ice.
In a sense, it sums up Hamilton's second season with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to this point. The 33-year-old right fielder is comfortable and trying to stay healthy.
The comfort level is showing at the plate as Hamilton is hitting .333 with a .402 on-base percentage and a .506 slugging percentage. The injury concerns show in the fact that Hamilton has amassed just 87 plate appearances.
He underwent surgery April 11 to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb and missed 48 games while on the disabled list from April 9 to June 3. At least the icepack was nothing to be alarmed about as it was just preventative maintenance against oblique or intercostal muscle injuries.
"Everything's great," Hamilton said with a smile. "Things couldn't be going any better."
It is understandable why Hamilton is so upbeat. While hitters often need an entire offseason of rest to recover from hand injuries, Hamilton has had no ill effects from the surgery.
"I felt really good both from a physical and a mental standpoint when I went on the DL and I tried to mentally stay that way while I was rehabbing," Hamilton said. "So I was pretty much able to pick right back up when I started swinging from a tee then on the field a few times by myself. Everything just clicked like it did before the injury."
Very rarely did things click for Hamilton last season when he was in the first of the five-year, $133-million contract he signed as a free agent. He hit .250 with 21 home runs in 151 games along with a .307 on-base percentage and a .432 slugging percentage. The batting average and OBP were career lows and Hamilton never heated up until August, hitting .226/.283/.418 in 99 games through the end of July, then .296/.352/.459 in 52 over the final two months.
Hamilton admits the transition to a new team was difficult. He had spent six seasons with the Texas Rangers and thought he would be a fixture in Arlington for the remainder of his career. Hw played in the All-Star Game in each of his first five seasons, led the franchise to its first two World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011 and was the American League MVP in 2010. Even though Hamilton hit a career-high 43 homers in 2012, the Rangers' interest in retaining him was tepid and he wound up singing with their AL West rival.
"Having a year under my belt here helps," Hamilton said. "Not having to come to spring training being the new guy and trying to get to know all the players and coaches and get a feel for the organization --- having that all of that way has made things better. I'm a lot more comfortable now. Just having to worry about doing my work rather than all the other stuff that surrounded it last year."
Trying to live up to such a large contract also had an effect, Hamilton said, but he has also been able to put that behind him now.
"I found out you that can only try so hard and that's it," Hamilton said. "All you can do is give it the very best you can."
The Angels are seeing the best of Hamilton, albeit only briefly, so far this season.
"I think the rule is what we're seeing this year and exception is what we saw last year with Josh," manager Mike Scioscia said. "His selection of pitches that he is swinging at is much better. He's never going to be that guy who works the count but he's going to get that one pitch in an at-bat and square it up hard. I don't think it's really anything much more than that. You're seeing the hitter we saw all those years when he was with Texas."
Hamilton, as has been well documented, had problems with drug abuse and received three total years' worth of suspensions from Major League Baseball that kept him out of the game from 2003-05. The Rangers provided Hamilton with an "accountability partner" throughout his time in Texas and there were concerns about a potential relapse when he switched organizations. However, Hamilton has had no problem adjusting to Southern California. He also maintains an offseason home with his wife and four daughters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area during the offseason.
"The biggest adjustment has been for my family more than me because they are there more than I am," Hamilton said. "The girls are home-schooled so that helps and they're all involved in sports in California and that keeps them busy. I drive to the field when there isn't traffic and I come home from the field when there isn't much traffic, so that's not a factor. I love the weather and I love the beaches. I enjoy it there and I enjoy it in Texas, too. We really have the best of both worlds. We couldn't be happier."
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John Perrotto has covered professional baseball since 1988 for such outlets as USA Today, The Sports Xchange, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and the Beaver County (Pa.) Times. You can find more of his work on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.