Pop the corn. Or, you know, something.

Hours from now the first competition of the 2011 Rangers season gets underway, with C.J. Wilson taking the ball for one intrasquad group not because he’s already been awarded the Opening Day start against Boston but because Mike Maddux’s schedule for Wilson based on that April 1 assignment makes today an excellent day for him to pitch an inning.  
Dave Bush’s pitch for a roster spot gives us more than just manager and pitching coach and catcher quotes to overreact to consume today, as he starts for the opposing squad in what is slated to be a 5.5-inning game.  
Wilson will throw again on Sunday, when Texas opens the exhibition schedule against Kansas City.  So will Bush.
Today Wilson will be followed by a group that is supposed to include Tanner Scheppers, one of the It Guys from the first week of camp, as well as Ryan Tucker, Seth McClung, Zach Phillips, and Zach Jackson.  Mark Lowe (who (1) has wowed Mike Napoli and (2) was a dealbreaker in July for Texas, who wouldn’t have put Justin Smoak in the Cliff Lee trade unless Seattle included the righthander, according to John Hickey of AOL FanHouse) headlines the relief group behind Bush, joined by Pedro Strop (who has been singled out in praise by Yorvit Torrealba, who was in the Rockies system along with Strop from 2006 through 2009, though their only conceivable work together would have been in spring training), Yoshinori Tateyama, and Cody Eppley.
Among those who aren’t slated to pitch today are Colby Lewis and Michael Kirkman, who will work in another intrasquad game tomorrow; Darren Oliver, who will go against the Royals (along with Lewis and Kirkman) on Monday; and Rule 5 pick Mason Tobin, who’s dealing with a bout of “general arm soreness.”  Others limited at the moment are Eric Hurley (hamstring), Miguel De Los Santos (biceps), Fabio Castillo (foot), and Scott Feldman (knee), not to mention Brandon Webb, whose prescribed course of long toss may already be the most notable (most noted, at least) in franchise history.
Much will be made of today’s 11 half-innings.  The action won’t be broadcast, the stats won’t “count” (not that Cactus League game numbers do, but intrasquad results really don’t count), and there may be innings that roll over because of pitch counts.  
But it’s the first semblance of baseball since Nelson Cruz’s very slow walk to the southwest 115 days ago, so cue up the overreactions, and feel free to embrace a little over-the-top.  It’s very likely that nothing that happens on the field today will have any more of an impact on the 2011 season than the bullpens, live BP, and infield drills that have led up to it, but you can bet the players are looking forward to a little umpire chitchat, a pine tar turn in the on-deck circle rather than behind the cage, and that underrated moment when the third base coach first flashes the signs, so it’s probably OK with everyone in Surprise if we play along and get our popcorn ready (for a handful of beat writer tweets telling us Zach Jackson fanned Jose Felix on six pitches).
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We’ve all been around this game long enough to concede that the anticipation of all these spring training mileposts is what counts, not the moments themselves, and so while it’s not advisable to pull the kids from school in time for first pitch of the Wilson’s against the Bush’s, I’d say we all have a good excuse for feeling a little keyed up this morning for yet another spring training piece to cross off the punch list as we get closer to Wilson’s April 1 trot to the mound, followed by eight exhilarating warmup pitches as Jacoby Ellsbury gets set to march from the visitors’ on-deck circle to the batter’s box, six weeks after reporting to Boston camp in what I’ve been told is the best shape of his life.

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