Angels players encouraged by meeting with Hamilton

Angels players encouraged by meeting with Hamilton

HOUSTON -- Josh Hamilton picked up David Freese, Collin Cowgill and Kole Calhoun from the team hotel on Thursday afternoon and took them to one of his favorite burger joints 10 miles away for what Freese simply described as "some lunch and some laughs between buddies."

It was just like old times, except not really.

"We still don't really know what's going on," Freese said. "All I know is what I saw -- a guy that's smiling a lot. We enjoyed a nice lunch. He's got a routine going on right now, and he really just wants to play some baseball."

Hamilton hasn't been around the Angels all year. He's been in Houston since early February, rehabbing from shoulder surgery while staying with a friend who doubles as a part-time accountability partner. Thursday's off-day in Houston was the first time most of the Angels' players and coaches had seen the 33-year-old outfielder since the end of last season.

They couldn't believe how big he looked -- 250 pounds and chiseled, an imposing look on a 6-foot-4 frame.

And they sensed a strong desire to play baseball again.

"I thought he was in really good spirits," Freese said. "The fact is, he wants to play some baseball, and he's ready to roll."

Hamilton also had dinner with Angels manager Mike Scioscia and bench coach Dino Ebel on Wednesday night, and visited with C.J. Wilson on Thursday. Wilson, his teammate dating back to their days with the Rangers, said Hamilton is "100 percent" in the right state of mind to play baseball.

Based on their conversation, Wilson believes Hamilton's latest relapse -- which occurred late in the offseason and reportedly involved cocaine -- was a "very tame scenario" compared to what he went through as a Minor League player in the Rays organization. He said Hamilton is "100 percent functional" with his addiction, "in a good place" and "doing the right things."

"It's my 100-percent opinion that Josh is not a risk to himself or anybody else," Wilson added. "That's what I feel having known him for eight years. That's the closest thing I can get to a factual opinion."

Hamilton, however, hasn't necessarily been welcomed back.

He wasn't given a locker at Tempe Diablo Stadium or Angel Stadium, and his merchandise has been pulled from the team stores. When an arbitrator ruled that he didn't violate the terms of his treatment program on Feb. 3, Angels president John Carpino said the decision "defies logic" and general manager Jerry Dipoto expressed "disappointment" in Hamilton's actions.

Angels owner Arte Moreno indicated prior to last Friday's home opener that he'll seek action against Hamilton, who has provisions in his contract that may give the team recourse in the event of drug or alcohol use. Asked if Hamilton will play another game for the Angels, Moreno said, "I will not say that."

The situation has put Angels players in an awkward spot, because they want to express support for Hamilton, but don't want to be critical of upper management.

There's still no word on when Hamilton will return to the Angels.

"The lack of knowledge that's going on can be frustrating, because this is a guy we care about," Freese said. "This is our team. Sooner or later, things will come out and we'll all know what's going on and whether he's coming back with the Angels or he's not."

Scioscia said Hamilton has been hitting and running, but said he "needs to expand on that" and is still not ready to get in games.

"I think he's turned the corner on the shoulder issue and hopefully that's behind him," Scioscia said. "There's still some work he has to do before he's ready to play a game."

The Angels' manager continually said it was "good to see" Hamilton and reiterated his stance that the priority is "to make sure he's getting the help and support he needs." But he didn't want to get into specifics about their meeting.

"I'm not going to comment on anything we talked about," Scioscia said. "We had a nice dinner, a nice meeting, and that's where we are right now. We're still searching for some clarity to the situation and only time is going to give that to us. So, we'll just keep going."

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.