BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UPDATE 5:00PM: USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported this afternoon that Prince Fielder is presently in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area meeting with Ranger officials. Nightingale indicates that this is the first of three visits for Fielder. The other two are with the Nationals and Cubs. Fielder is said to have dropped his contract demands to six years, perhaps with an early opt out clause.

The Rangers’ Fan Fest Weekend events commenced last night with the team’s awards banquet at the Arlington Convention Center.  With players in town for the weekend, there is are some items of note.

First on the Yu Darvish contract negotiations, Nolan Ryan was quoted as saying he thought the deal would get done.  The usually tight lipped front office is true to form on Darvish, such that there are few credible rumors about where the parties stand in the negotiations.  However, it is notable that last week when Darvish was in town, he did take and pass a physical exam.  That’s another detail out of the way toward finalizing a contract.

Ryan did meet the 6′-6″ right-hander last week when he was in town.  “He was built like a pitcher,” Ryan told’s Todd Wills.  “I just liked his attitude about wanting to compete.  His feel for being able to do things with a baseball is real encouraging.”

If an agreement is not reached by next Wednesday at 4:00 PM (Central), the Rangers will not have to pay the $51.7 million posting fee, and Darvish will return to play this season with the Nippon Ham Fighters.  If Darvish does return to the Japanese league, he (per Norm Hitzges on KTCK) will make about $6,000,000 US in salary with Nippon Ham and will also make a similar amount in endorsements; though he probably will retain most if not all of the endorsement monies.  Actually that figure is likely to increase, if he signs with the Rangers.

The Rangers have reportedly checked in on Roy Oswalt recently, who is still an unsigned free agent.  More than likely though, their interest in Oswalt is as a fall back position if Darvish does not sign with the team.

Josh Hamilton gave an extended interview with Richard Durrett and Joe Trahan Thursday night on ESPN radio.  He said that he participated in a video the team made for Darvish.  He was coached to say “Welcome to Texas!” in Japanese.

Hamilton also spoke in detail about the injuries he played through in October.  WOW!  It hurt just listening to him detail the sports hernia that later required surgery.  He also had a torn muscle in his abdomen.

At the banquet, Michael Young received the award as the Rangers’ Player of the Year.  He was also presented the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award for the second time.  Young hit .338 and drove in 106 runs in 2011, both career highs.  He also made the All-Star team.

Craig Gentry received the Rangers’ Rookie of the Year Award for 2011.  The Rangers continue to indicate that they want to keep Hamilton out of center field to protect him from injury.  If they stick to their guns, the speedy Gentry will be contending for the center field job with Julio Borbon and Leonys Martin, both of whom bat left.  Gentry has made it known that he would like to have a shot at the job full time, and it is noteworthy that his batting average was slightly better against right handed pitchers last year (.277 verses .265 in approximately the same number of at bats).

SPRING TRAINING MATTERS: The Rangers announced they have invited the following eight players as non-roster invitees to spring training:  Pitchers Fabio Castillio, Craig Reynolds, Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers and Ben Snyder.  Infielders Mike Olt,Tommy Mendonca, who is attempting a position change to catcher, and Greg Miclat.

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