PHOENIX -- The Cactus League schedule returned Ron Washington to the crucible of his managerial dreams and reunited him with some of the men who for 11 years had fanned his baseball passions.

The lovefest began a few minutes before noon, when the bus transporting the Texas Rangers from Surprise, Ariz., rolled into the parking lot of Phoenix Municipal Stadium. It would end a few minutes past 1 o'clock, when beating the A's became paramount to meeting them.

In between, hugs and handshakes and broad smiles flourished under the midday sun.

"Tons of them," said Washington, the rookie manager of the Rangers. "Guys were on me as soon as I got to the steps."

But this wasn't just Washstock, a spring day of love. Sharing the homecoming was another former Oakland rock, the man whom Washington effusively credits with softening his entry into the brotherhood of managers.

Art Howe also came across the A's for the first time since managing them to the last of three consecutive playoff appearances in 2002 -- a stretch couched within Washington's 11 seasons as an Oakland coach. During Howe's ensuing three-year stint as Mets manager, Oakland wasn't on their Interleague schedule, and Howe took a sabbatical from the game in 2006.

"Yep, first time I've been around them since then, too," Howe said with a grin, a few feet from where Washington was unloading his soul and motivations to the Oakland press corps. "Not as big a deal with me, though."

But Howe is the biggest deal to Washington -- who reached out to him within a week of landing the Texas job and implored him to join up as his bench coach. Even though he had accepted a spot on Charlie Manuel's Phillies staff only a few days earlier, Howe pleased Washington by accepting.

"I was certainly relaxed," Washington said of the challenge facing him, "but Art put me in another stage of relaxation. I trust my baseball knowledge and instincts, but having him next to me ... I feel like I've been doing this for 10 years.

"Art Howe is smart," Washington added. "He don't miss nothing. I love to sit next to him, listen to him talk. It was a very special thing when I got the job that I could get him. He's a great man, and I'll lean on him."

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So Howe was back across the team that let him go, and Washington was opposite the team that didn't keep him. Washington had interviewed for the seat left vacant when the A's dismissed Ken Macha, but he accepted the Texas position eight days before the Oakland job befell Bob Geren.

This first chance to reunite with "my boys" appeared to excite Washington and fill him with anticipation. It was hard to be sure, because he is always excited and eager.

"This will be the first time," he had said in the morning in Surprise, where the team stretched prior to boarding the bus, "so probably there'll be a lot of hoopla. I spent 11 good years there. They're my friends, they were happy for me.

"I'm always gonna have my sentimental heart there. But when game time comes and you strap in on, it's time to play baseball. I want to beat anyone."

When the location changed, Washington's tune did not.

"When you compete, you want to win," he said. "Game's over, I just want to have one more run than they do. That will make me happy."

A couple of hours later, Texas' 7-6 win had him perfectly happy. This was what he had wanted and, for proof, he essentially ran out his regular starting lineup, a rarity for an away exhibition game.

"Won't happen again. But I wanted to win this game, so I brought the big boys," Washington said after the Rangers had won on the strength of a five-run seventh fueled by Nelson Cruz's two-run triple. "But the scrub crew did it."

Washington was home, but did not want to make himself at home.

"It wouldn't be kosher to go in their clubhouse," he said. "It'll be better to meet them on the field."

So he sat on the visitors' third-base bench until Kelly Green began to dot the diamond, climbed up the three steps out of the dugout, extended his hand and kept it extended as waves of uniformed and non-uniform people greeted him.

A little later, when he brought the Rangers' lineup card to the pregame meeting at the plate, the fans in the scorching stands reacted with similar warmth, breaking into applause.

No telling how long the affection will endure. If Washington has his way, by the time the Rangers make their third trip of the season to Oakland in mid-September, the fans in McAfee Coliseum will be all over him.

He doesn't mind claiming that his familiarity with A's players gives him an edge, but it's not up to him whether that will be reflected by the American League West standings.

"In my mind, it does give me an advantage," Washington said. "I do know them well, and I'll try to use everything against them. But my players have to execute between the lines.

"I have an idea of what they need to do, but it they don't execute, everything I know won't be worth a hill of beans."