ARLINGTON, Texas — Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli left the Texas Rangers as free agents last winter. Hamilton signed with the Los Angeles Angels and Napoli with the Red Sox.
Fans at Rangers Ballpark loudly booed Hamilton when he returned on April 5. The outfielder had a poor end to the 2012 season and later made critical comments about Texans having less passion for baseball than fans in other cities.
When Napoli came to the plate in the second inning on Friday night, there were only cheers. Some fans even chanted his last name.
“I loved playing here,” Napoli said before the game. “Everything about it was great.”
Napoli hit .275 with a .931 OPS in two seasons with the Rangers. He had 54 home runs and drove in 131 runs.
With Napoli playing a prominent role, the Rangers went to the World Series in 2011. He was 19 of 58 (.328) with 3 home runs and 15 RBIs in 17 postseason games that season.
Napoli was primarily a catcher for the Rangers with occasional games as a first baseman and designated hitter. After an inconsistent five seasons with the Angels, Napoli became an established player in Texas.
“I came over here and just how it was in the clubhouse, my personality, I could really . . . get out here and be myself and be the player I could be,” Napoli said.
“Not taking anything away from Anaheim, it’s just it was different there than it was over here in Texas. It was awesome for me. It helped out my career. I got to play a lot more and I did good things.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell saw the same from afar.
“When we think back to him being in Anaheim, across the field you always felt that there was a dangerous hitter there,” he said. “He came [to Texas], he got some freedom to play at first base in a very good hitters’ ballpark. I think it allowed him to not only flourish, but I would think any hitter here gains confidence.”
There was no animosity when Napoli left Texas.
He initially agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract with the Red Sox in December, an offer the Rangers wouldn’t match.
When Napoli was found to have a degenerative hip condition, that deal was taken off the table. Napoli eventually signed a one-year contract with the Red Sox. The Rangers were willing to do the same but he preferred Boston.
“It was basically down to here or Boston,” Napoli said. “Just an opportunity I had [in Boston] to play first every day; not be behind the plate. Still wasn’t really sure how my hips would respond. I felt that was the best fit for me with my career and health-wise. Everything has worked out. My hips have been fine.”
Napoli, who went 0 for 4 Friday night, is batting .274 with six homers. His 31 RBIs, 22 extra base hits, and 15 doubles lead the majors.
Napoli said he likes playing for Farrell and that the improved team chemistry of the Red Sox is helpful.
“We all are here for each other, we play for each other, we want to do good for each other,” Napoli said.
Bailey on mend
Closer Andrew Bailey, who was unavailable Thursday because of a sore biceps, played catch before the game and was cleared to pitch on an emergency basis.
“Each and every day it’s feeling better,” said Bailey, who first felt something Sunday and hasn’t appeared in a game since. “It’s a positive sign we have it going in the right direction.
“We’re doing the right thing by being smart and not trying to push it so early on. That way, take a day or two. Better than taking a long time later on.”
Farrell was very pleased with the development.
“He’s much improved over yesterday and the last couple of days,” the manager said. “He would be available in kind of an emergency situation. Ideally we can give him another day to stay away from him. Good news nonetheless.”
Buchholz ‘at ease’
Clay Buchholz became a national story after two Blue Jays broadcasters accused him of doctoring balls during his start on Wednesday. Farrell has spoken to the righthander about making sure the unfounded charges do not become a distraction.
“We’ve had conversations,” Farrell said. “I can tell you through our interactions and the way he’s responded to things that we’ve talked about, he’s very much at ease with himself. Like I said, there’s nothing to hide.”
At one point on Friday afternoon, four panelists were on an ESPN show discussing whether Buchholz had cheated. The pitcher paused to watch a few seconds on the clubhouse television, shook his head and left the room. Buchholz is scheduled to pitch again Monday at Fenway against Minnesota.