The Pride of North Texas: Charley Pride, that is, an annual fixture at Rangers spring training

Play Ball! Notes from Texas Rangers Spring Training, Thus Far.

SURPRISE, Arizona -- Eight months from now we’ll either remember this as the day your Texas Rangers commenced a stunning turnaround. Or, more likely, the day they unofficially officially began a ninth consecutive season finishing third or worse in the four-team American League West. Ready or not, spring training is abloom.

Country singer Charley Pride has made his annual tour of Rangers camp, serenading the team with “Jailhouse Rock” and “El Paso” on Monday night here. The “Snowie” machine is grinding away in right field, right next to the carousel ride. The beer is cold, the dogs are hot, and, of course, the Cactus League just wouldn’t be intriguing if not for a couple prickly goings-on:

The Rangers are starting left-hander A.J. Murray against the Kansas City Royals because -- uh-oh -- starters Kevin Millwood (tweaked hamstring) and Brandon McCarthy (sore elbow) are already on the shelf. Says pitching coach Mark Connor of McCarthy, “When a guy gets hurt and can’t pitch, yeah, I’m concerned.” Neither injury is considered significant, but just sayin’ …

Gerald Laird is starting at catcher in front of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, based on the shrewd evaluation of age. “Gerald’s older,” says Rangers manager Ron Washington. “Been here longer.” The two will alternate starts during the spring’s 29 games in what should be the roster’s most fascinating competition ...

From the Dept. of Same Ol’ Same Ol’, Kevin Mench is today’s designated hitter. Mench, of course, played four and a half year in Texas before leaving in the 2006 deal for Milwaukee’s Carlos Lee. He would be more valuable if he could play some first base, and Washington says “at some point that might be introduced to him” ...

New president Nolan Ryan isn’t here yet, but if the parking lot is any indication he’s the organization’s second-most powerful presence. Owner Tom Hicks gets three spaces, Ryan two and general manager Jon Daniels one. For some reason Rusty Greer and Mark McLemore have lockers in the clubhouse. Good karma?

Speaking of Hicks. He’s here ...

The Rangers went 16-11 during 2007 spring training en route to 75-87, so we’re convinced these games matter, right? ...

The lineup, for what it’s worth: Ian Kinsler 2B Josh Hamilton CF Michael Young SS Hank Blalock 3B Marlon Byrd RF/ Milton not ready knee surgery Ben Broussard 1B Kevin Mench DH David Murphy LF Gerald Laird C A.J. Murray P

By the way, Murray walked the first batter, and Kinsler followed by throwing a ball into the stands for an error. Ah, already in mid-season form. --Richie Whitt

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