ANAHEIM, Calif. – The ballpark on Gene Autry Way is a workable enough facility that, while not always intended solely for baseball, has been renovated into a building that suits the game fine. It ain't AT&T Park. It ain't Camden Yards. But, it's, you know, fine. We're talking about baseball, not brunch at Ivy at the Shore.
Angel Stadium is surrounded by parking lots and beyond those condominiums and then just enough spots to get a burger or sandwich before the game and a beer afterward. The people inside are generally friendly, the men on the field used to win a lot and last season won the division, and there's hardly anything that resembles – or qualifies as – a press box, which is not a knock; the best reporters seek to view the game from unusual and interesting angles and, well, there you go.
For a few – the players, coaches, support staff, front office – Angel Stadium is also as close to being home as it gets without really being home. They eat two meals a day here. They shower here and get mail here. A lot of their best friends are here, sometimes sitting on the big leather couch watching golf, reading a magazine and laughing at their dumb jokes. It seems a lot like home, only with a bigger backyard.
So, if this is supposed to be like home and the people here are supposed to be like family, what's all this about Josh Hamilton supposed to be at Angel Stadium?
He has no locker here. For two years his locker was in the far corner of the clubhouse, in a neighborhood that spoke of some achievement and big-league service time. On Friday, when the Angels played their first real home game since the news Hamilton had suffered a relapse in his recovery from drug and alcohol abuse, Hamilton's locker had been reassigned to second baseman Johnny Giavotella. In the first home game since he was found to have not violated Major League Baseball's drug program, Hamilton had been scrubbed from the Angels' clubhouse.
If Hamilton didn't have far larger issues with which to concern himself, he might wonder why his organization would turn its back on him today, of all days, when he needs it most.
Last season, when he was justifiably suspended for gluttonous performance-enhancing drug use and in turn sued just about anyone who'd ever heard of the New York Yankees, Alex Rodriguez had a locker at Yankee Stadium. It was empty, but it was there and unoccupied. When he returned this week, Rodriguez went to the same locker, hung his clothes on the same rod, lined his shoes on the same shelf. But not Josh Hamilton, not in Anaheim, not after he had shoulder surgery and reportedly slid into old habits that some days are bigger than he is.
Asked by reporters Friday night if he could say that Hamilton will play again for the Angels, owner Arte Moreno, who a couple years back recruited Hamilton and all that comes with Hamilton to Anaheim, responded, "I will not say that."
Instead, he hinted at language in Hamilton's contract that would protect him from Hamilton's relapse. Hamilton is due $83 million over the next three seasons. The union almost certainly would contest an attempt to dock Hamilton's salary or void his contract, no matter the circumstance, and in fact did almost before Moreno had completed the thought. That Hamilton was found to be within the guidelines of the drug agreement would seem to further undo Moreno's plan.
"We have a contract with Hamilton and that contract has specific language, that he signed and that was approved, that said he could not drink or use drugs," Moreno said.
He added, "There is the possibility of pursuing it."
Within a couple hours, the Players Association responded, "The MLBPA emphatically denies Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno's assertions from earlier today that the Angels had requested and received the approval of the union to insert language into Josh Hamilton's contract that would supersede the provisions of the Joint Drug Agreement and/or the Basic Agreement. To the contrary, the collectively bargained provisions of the JDA and the Basic Agreement supersede all other player contract provisions and explicitly prevent clubs from exactly the type of action Mr. Moreno alluded to in his press comments today."
Sounds like a good fight, if that's what Moreno is angling for.
Hamilton's agent, Mike Moye, did not respond to a voice mail left on his cell phone. And so there is – and has been – no word from the Hamilton camp. The assumption is that Hamilton intends to continue his career. The appearance is the Angels aren't interested. What the Angels will say is that Hamilton is in Houston recovering from shoulder surgery.
"I understand he's swinging [a bat]," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "So that's really the extent of how close he is to getting into hard-core baseball activities. There's no timetable right now."
The Angels are in Houston for a three-game series at the end of next week. It would seem a reasonable opportunity for the club to meet with Hamilton, even for Hamilton to look in on his teammates. According to a team official, the Angels have rehired Shayne Kelley, who'd served as Hamilton's accountability partner for two seasons. Hamilton reduced that role after the 2013 season.
Where it all goes from here is unknown. Meanwhile, the Angels continue to act as though Hamilton's struggle with addiction is a personal affront to them. That the accountability issue rests entirely with Hamilton. That what they're really concerned about is the money.
"It's not about money," Moreno said.
Well, OK then. Because you'd hate for that to come between family, especially now that Hamilton seems to be without a place to hang his hat.
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