When Josh Hamilton was drafted No. 1 overall by Tampa Bay, he envisioned himself some day making his playoff debut at Tropicana Field. The major league batting champion just never imagined he'd do in a different uniform.
"It's kind of weird a little bit, it just really is, to think about playing the Rays," Hamilton said Monday when his Texas Rangers worked out in preparation for their first-round series against the AL East champions.
"When I was here, obviously the organization wasn't like it is now. But it's a good thing to see some of the guys I played with, see how well they're doing. See how well the organization is doing. It's just cool."
Labeled a can't-miss prospect when Tampa Bay made him the first pick in the 1999 amateur draft, Hamilton failed to realize his potential with the club because of injuries and a drug suspension that derailed his career.
He had not played professionally for more than three years when Cincinnati selected him in the Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings in December 2006. He spent one season with the Reds before being traded to Texas, where he's blossomed into a three-time All-Star.
The 29-year-old slugger hit .359 with 32 homers and 100 RBIs this season for the AL West champions despite missing 24 games down the stretch because of two broken ribs. He returned to the lineup for the final three games and said he doesn't anticipate the injury being a problem in the playoffs.
"Woke up this morning really, really, really, really sore. As I've gone through the day things have kind of loosened up again. Just got to do what I've got to do to prepare. Get that soreness out and play the game," Hamilton said. "Nothing out of the ordinary. It takes a long time for these things to heal, and that's with no activity."
The Rays also got encouraging news on the strained left quadriceps that kept All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria out of the lineup for the last 10 games of the regular season.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon gave his players Monday off after clinching the AL East title on the final day of the season, but Longoria showed up in the morning to take batting practice, field grounders and run the bases.
"He's fine. Ready to roll," said Maddon, who also announced his pitching rotation for the series, with 19-game game David Price taking the mound against Texas ace Cliff Lee in Wednesday's opener.
"He looked really good at the plate, looked very alive," Maddon added. "His mechanics looked good, he was not jumpy. So he came through hitting, fielding, running, throwing very well."
Meanwhile, the status of Texas outfielder David Murphy for the best-of-five series remains uncertain. He has a strained left groin and has yet to try running full speed.
Hamilton went 3 for 11 with a home run and three RBIs in the Rangers' weekend series against Anaheim.
"He's more talented than anybody else in the game. Obviously, he's a big part of our lineup," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said.
"To be honest with you, I don't even think he needed those games over the weekend," Young added. "As long as he said he was healthy ... he'll be fine. We're excited about the fact that we have him back where he belongs, in the middle of our lineup."
Once the series begins, the outfielder said his troubled times in Florida and being back at Tropicana Field will be the farthest thing from his mind.
"The first time I came back here, that was great, but ever since then Texas is home," he said.
"I have fond memories of the Rays and my time in the organization. It's cool to come back kind of full circle from where it began to where I am now, so exciting. I'm going to have some people here watching the games that helped me through my tough times, so that's exciting for me to see. ... It's going to be a good time."