Hamilton reunites Monday with Rangers in unlikely journey

Josh Hamilton is getting another shot at redemption in baseball with an unlikely journey that has led back to the Texas Rangers.

After leaving for a big free agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels, the 2010 AL MVP had struggles on and off the field.

Hamilton, out of the majors since shoulder surgery in February, is now set for a Rangers reunion in Cleveland on Monday. That comes exactly four weeks after the Angels finalized a trade to basically give him back to their AL West rivals for little in return less than halfway into a $125 million, five-year deal.

''I've always wanted to play the game the right way. Play hard, give what you have, leave it out there. If you do that, then you don't have to answer to anybody,'' Hamilton said Saturday, when his stint at Triple-A Round Rock ended with a rained-out game. ''Hopefully, people in my career have enjoyed watching me play.''

Hamilton will start in left field and likely will hit second or fifth in the batting order, according to manager Jeff Banister.

Banister said his plan was to ''open our arms and love him up and give him a great big hug and welcome him in, and then treat him like he's one of 25, just like we do everybody else.''

Banister intends to speak with Hamilton before Monday's game.

''Don't be more than who you are. Just be you,'' Banister said of his message. ''There are 24 other players out there that are going to play for you, with you, around you and support you. Do the same for the them. Just fit in.''

During Hamilton's first stint in Texas, after 19 homers and 47 RBIs in his 2007 rookie season with Cincinnati, the outfielder was an All-Star in each of his five seasons (2008-12) and was the AL MVP the same season the Rangers went to the first of consecutive World Series.

While becoming a fan favorite in Texas and throughout the majors, there were two publicly reported relapses with alcohol. The No. 1 overall pick by Tampa Bay in the 1999 amateur draft, Hamilton's career was almost completely derailed by cocaine and alcohol addictions in the minors, including more than three seasons out of the game.

''The other factor is how I got here. Taking the detour of my own choices, then being able to get back and share my story with folks,'' said Hamilton, who turned 34 on Thursday. ''And through that story, continue to have struggles at times, and then continue to come back and share those things. Hopefully (fans) take away that I'm a guy doesn't hide behind his mistakes, but is up front with them.''

Hamilton had a disappointing two seasons on the West Coast, where in 240 regular-season games for the Angels he hit .255 with 31 homers and 123 RBIs. He played only 89 games last season because of injuries, and was hitless in 13 at-bats during the AL division series against Kansas City last October.

Then there was his self-reported alcohol and cocaine relapse last offseason, along with shoulder surgery. He is also going through a divorce.

Angels owner Arte Moreno made it clear they no longer wanted Hamilton, and will pay $105 million for two underwhelming seasons. Texas is responsible for $6 million and Hamilton agreed to give up $14 million he was due.

Hamilton went to extended spring training in Arizona the day after the April 27 trade, then spent the past two weeks playing 12 games combined for Round Rock and Double-A Frisco. He figures to take away at-bats from Delino DeShields.

''Josh is physically and game-ready to get started,'' Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said.

Round Rock manager Jason Wood said Hamilton's ''state of mind is very good, his body is in great shape.''

Hamilton's first home game in Texas will be Thursday in a series opener against Boston. His last was the AL wild-card loss to Baltimore in 2012, when he was booed lustily by Rangers fans while going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a double-play grounder.

''Whatever happens in Arlington, whatever kind of reception I get, it's OK. I want to be OK and I want to go out there and play hard every day I'm out there,'' he said. ''I'm not going to do that to win fans liking me back. I'm going to do that because that's the type of guy I am and the type of player I am, and player I want to be. If they jump on board, that's great.''

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AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in New York and AP freelance writer Sean Shapiro in Round Rock, Texas, contributed to this report.

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