THE NEWBERG REPORT FROM SURPRISE, AZ: March 16, 2008

Three years ago, lefthander C.J. Wilson was in the midst of his breakthrough camp, getting work with the big club and more than acquitting himself, as he laid the groundwork for what would be, three months later, his big league debut.  Meanwhile, that same spring, righthander Eric Hurley was facing Class A opponents in his first camp, with plenty of key observers pulled up in golf carts around the perimeter of the chain link fence wrapping around home plate from dugout to dugout.

Yesterday Wilson and Hurley switched places, with the big league closer pitching to Class A Seattle hitters while the young righthander became the first Rangers starter to go four innings in a big league game this spring, holding the National League champion Rockies to two runs on two hits (including a home run) and two walks and fanning a pair.

We got to the fields too late to see Kevin Millwood get in his work against that same Class A squad, or Joaquin Benoit get in his – and we can’t even blame Grand Avenue, which we dutifully avoided.  We’ve had it with Hertz; if you work with another car rental company, let me know.  I’m about to transfer all my business and personal car rental business to you.

But we did arrive just in time to see Wilson get in his 10 or 12 pitches.  It’s a process – this is only the second time he’s thrown in a game this spring, the first coming two weeks ago – but his pitches had life and a little hop, if not quite as much as he’ll have once he’s ramped up to April.

Remember that episode of “Shazam” you missed when you were a kid, because your Henry S. Miller team had a Saturday morning North Dallas Chamber of Commerce baseball game, probably against Friendly Chevrolet?  And then you got into a spirited conversation with your second-grade friends in Mrs. Mulos’s class as they told you what happened in the episode, and you were fired up but it still gnawed at you that you didn’t see it for yourself and figured, since TiVo wouldn’t be around for another 25 years, that you never would? 

I had to relive that sad moment as I heard about what I’d missed catcher Manuel Pina do in the hour before my arrival at the back fields yesterday.  You need to go read Mike Hindman’s blog (rangersfarmreport.mlblogs.com) to find out.

Best moment of Day One: Bakersfield hitting coach Brant Brown leaving the field of play, during the High A game, solely to walk 15 feet over to Max and hand him a perfectly battle-scarred Rawlings baseball, before immediately getting back to the field of play.

For the next half hour, Max tossed that ball with John Whittleman, Sr., enthusiastically diving even on grounders right at him. 

Man, I hope Max doesn’t burn out.  His love for this game is unbelievably inspiring.

When David Murphy looks in the mirror, does he see a picture of Rudy Jaramillo in the bottom left corner, and pictures of Gary Matthews Jr., Mark DeRosa, and Marlon Byrd in the bottom right corner, and say, “That’s me.  I’m that guy”? 

Murphy is the runner-up to Josh Hamilton in terms of whose batting practice I most want to see.

Lots of you have emailed me asking what I think the package of players might have been that Texas and Minnesota had apparently agreed on over the winter during the Johan Santana trade discussions (per Jon Heyman’s SI.com article on Friday), only to have the talks die when Santana didn’t show much interest in signing long-term with the Rangers.  I have no idea, but I do recall that in December at least one local report indicated that the Twins’ price started with Edinson Volquez, Hurley, and Chris Davis.

The Rangers, according to Baseball America, released lefthanders Carlos Perez and Yennier Sardinas and catcher Bret Story.

Atlanta signed righthander Vladimir Nunez to a minor league deal.  Colorado signed outfielder Ruddy Yan to a minor league deal.  The Dodgers, lefthander Scott Rice.  Houston, catcher Reece Creswell.  The White Sox, outfielder Jim Rushford.  Philadelphia, lefthander Jared Locke.   

Time for some morning baseball on the back fields.

Shazam.

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