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Hamilton enthusiastic to begin era with Angels

Hamilton enthusiastic to begin era with Angels

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Hamilton enthusiastic to begin era with Angels
ANAHEIM -- If you were stunned to see the Angels swoop in at the last minute and sign Josh Hamilton, you weren't alone.

Hamilton was, too.

"Of course I was surprised," Hamilton said about the Angels' late pursuit at his introductory news conference Saturday.

"They like to get after it; they like to get things done."

With Hamilton, the Angels got it done in a manner no other team, especially his most recent one, would. In the process, they took a sizable risk on a gifted outfielder with a checkered past, signing the former MVP to a five-year, $125 million contract that is back-loaded, includes a full no-trade clause and offers no special language that protects the Angels in case of a relapse.

But they've also added a player who gives skipper Mike Scioscia one of baseball's deepest lineups in 2013, gives general manager Jerry Dipoto the opportunity to trade for a necessary starting pitcher and gives owner Arte Moreno a legit chance to win his first title since taking over in '03.

"To get an opportunity to have one of the best players in baseball and put him on our team," Moreno said, "I thought it was a great investment."

Hamilton showed up at the ESPN Zone in Downtown Disney a little before noon PT on Saturday, first to greet the 500 Angels fans who were anxiously gathered outside and then to address the media at a makeshift podium.

With his wife, Katie, seated next to him and his four daughters -- Julia, Sierra, Michaela and Stella -- in the audience, Hamilton spoke about teaming with Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, about following his faith to Southern California and about saying goodbye to the Angels' division rivals.

"It's really cool when a new chapter in your life begins," the 31-year-old slugger said, "and this is exciting."

At the end of his 2012 campaign, a Wild Card loss to the Orioles that capped a late-season collapse, Hamilton openly said he'd give the Rangers the first crack at signing him. Asked about them not taking it, Hamilton said, "I'd be lying to you if I said it didn't bother me a little bit, that they didn't put the press on."

Then he deferred to his wife, who had a much better way of characterizing it.

"If you're going to date somebody and that's going to be your man or your woman, then you make it official and make it known or pretty quick, or at some point, that you want to be with them," Katie said.

"They let us go out and date people and kind of give our hearts away."

Then Hamilton chimed in: "She said, 'You should've put a ring on it.'"

Initial contact by the Angels was made on Dec. 4, Day 2 of the Winter Meetings, when Dipoto and assistant GM Scott Servais had a two-hour lunch with Hamilton, Katie, and his two agents, Mike Moye and Scott Sanderson, in Nashville, Tenn.

"It's been a steady line of communication since, obviously ramping up these last three or four days," said Dipoto, who one day earlier had decided he was not going to meet the contractual demands of Zack Greinke.

Six days later, while on their way to New York, Moreno, his wife, Carole, and president John Carpino made a pit stop in Westlake, Texas, to meet with Hamilton for more than four hours.

The Angels wanted to get it done then, but Hamilton needed time.

"We went in knowing who he was as a player, because everybody knows who he is as a player, and we were trying to get to know him as a person," Carpino said. "We walked away just overly impressed with him."

By Wednesday afternoon, the Angels had decided to kick in a fifth year when no other club was really willing to get into hard numbers. Hamilton was pressed to make a decision quickly.

And by 6 p.m., he agreed.

"I'm not real patient," Moreno said. "Once I put years and money, it really exposes us. So I just asked, 'Is this deal going to get shopped?'"

It didn't get shopped. Hamilton accepted, before the Rangers had a chance to match it. And almost immediately after news broke of Hamilton's deal Thursday, he got a text message from Pujols, who one year earlier signed a $240 million deal that was every bit as surprising as this one.

"I've always loved Albert, and we've talked when playing against each other," Hamilton said. "Just being on the same team is pretty special, not only for just playing, but knowing what a man of faith he is and how much he loves the Lord."

Hamilton was reminded about Pujols' rough start with the Angels, which began with a 27-game homerless streak. Hamilton, with tongue firmly placed in cheek, quipped: "Albert ain't got my pop!"

Over the last five years, Hamilton has proven to be one of the best all-around players in baseball, starting in five straight All-Star Games, taking home three Silver Slugger Awards, and being crowned American League MVP and MVP of the AL Championship Series in 2010, en route to the first of two straight pennants.

During that time, Hamilton ranked 10th in the Majors in batting average (.305) and eighth in OPS (.912). He drove in 130 runs in '08, won the batting title with a .359 clip in '10 and belted a career-high 43 homers in 2012.

But he was also limited to 89 games in '09 due to an assortment of injuries, missed almost all of September the following season because of two fractured ribs and was out for 36 games in early 2011 due to a fractured humerus bone below his shoulder.

Hamilton avoided the disabled list in 2012, playing in 148 games and finishing with solid numbers -- a .285 batting average, 128 RBIs, a .930 OPS and a career high in homers.

But it was a roller coaster.

On Feb. 3, Hamilton publicly apologized for his second alcohol-related relapse since getting clean and first since January 2009. In the first two months, he surged to a .368 batting average and 21 homers, four of which came on one May 8 night in Baltimore. And in the second half, he struggled mightily, striking out 86 times, batting .259, dropping a critical fly ball in the regular-season finale and getting booed in what would be his final home game in Texas.

But Hamilton's skills aren't a question. What could make the signing so risky -- and what limited his market -- are the drug-and-alcohol problems that forced him to miss 3 1/2 years from 2003-06 and seem a slip-up away from returning.

For that, the Angels are bringing in Shayne Kelley, Hamilton's longtime mentor, to continue to be a part of the support system. But mostly, they're showing their utmost faith.

If their words don't show it enough, their pursuit and their contract did.

"I'm so excited and happy to hear an organization say we're so excited and happy we got you no matter what the risk is," Hamilton said. "They're going to help me -- with my support system, as well -- put things in place like I have with the Rangers. Nothing out of the ordinary; nothing that's straining to the organization or our clubhouse. So, I'm excited to be here -- excited to be with people who want me to be here."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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