Rangers' spring goal: Give Hamilton, Darvish support group

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- They posed together for photos Jan. 20, the most popular Texas Rangers player and a new teammate who is one of the most popular figures in Japan from any walk of life.

Josh Hamilton and Yu Darvish had met previously, but not publicly. Hamilton had also appeared in a recruiting video shown to the star right-hander during a visit to Arlington a few weeks earlier.

They will be reunited this week as Rangers players, coaches and front-office types head to the desert for the start of the most anticipated spring training in club history.

It might be Hamilton and Darvish's only spring together.

Darvish is in place for at least the next five years. Hamilton, though, is signed only through this season, and a recent relapse with alcohol has put his future with the Rangers beyond 2012 on hold.

But while the tenor of their springs is vastly different, they'll be on the same path at the Surprise Recreation Campus. The Rangers' goal is to give each player the necessary resources to be successful and help the club win its first world championship after just missing the previous two years.

Even though Darvish is testing the major leagues for the first time, there is more concern for keeping Hamilton healthy and supporting him after another public slip.

"One thing we've always prided ourselves on in Texas is support, and we're going to support Josh," manager Ron Washington said. "He knows what he has to do. We know what we have to do, and I think his teammates will support him. I don't believe there will be a problem."

Talks for a contract extension were put on hold shortly after Hamilton drank alcohol Jan. 30 at a Dallas-area bar. The focus is on getting him in a good place mentally and spiritually and with his family.

Negotiations can continue as the spring and season progress, said general manager Jon Daniels. There is mutual interest in keeping Hamilton in a Rangers uniform.

Trying to find common ground will be interesting. No player like Hamilton -- fabulously talented but with the baggage of addictions to drugs and alcohol in addition to an inability to stay healthy -- has ever approached free agency.

"There is no deadline," Daniels said. "Everyone involved agrees that it's just not the time to look at that. The priority needs to be his recovery, his family and, secondarily, getting ready for the season.

"We're not going to get in the way of those things with contract talk. We may address it again. We're going to handle that privately. I don't know if it'll be this spring or at a later date."

Darvish's development, meanwhile, will be anything but private. Accompanying him across the Pacific are around 130 media members from Japan and the high expectations of a country whose pitchers haven't enjoyed sustained success in the major leagues.

The Rangers have bet heavily -- $107.1 million guaranteed -- that Darvish will break the mold and become the ace the Rangers haven't had for much of their existence.

They have also invested in a support team that includes a translator and a trainer. They have beefed up security for spring training, not to mention wireless Internet capacity for all the media.

Darvish, though, is used to the attention. He needs to acclimate himself to life and baseball in the United States.

He has spent more than a week in Los Angeles in an effort to adjust to the arid climate of the Southwest. His tip-top conditioning, the Rangers believe, will help him survive a Texas summer.

But there hasn't been much tinkering with his off-season regimen. Darvish isn't some rookie, though he will have rookie status this season. He has a workout schedule that brought him terrific success in Japan, and the Rangers will see how it plays out.

Their biggest challenge this spring and this season is to make sure he isn't trying to do too much.

"My intention is to say something to him, but I'm not going to say anything to him to stunt his work ethic or how to go about his business," Washington said. "It'll be more or less along the lines of, 'Do what you can do to help us win ballgames.'"

That's the goal for everyone in camp, and no two players will be watched as closely or supported as much this spring as Hamilton and Darvish.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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