For the second time in six days, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein sat in the media room at Fenway Park flanking a superstar on Saturday morning. For the second time in six days, he heard just how excited that superstar is to be joining what could be an absolute force.
Carl Crawford was officially welcomed to town Saturday morning at Fenway Park, where he donned jersey No. 13 and began an odyssey that almost nobody outside the Red Sox front office imagined would even take place six days ago.
The excitement of a whirlwind week for the organization was not lost on its newest member.
“I’m pretty sure [manager Terry Francona’s] going to have fun filling out the lineup every single night,” Crawford said.
Crawford, seemingly a top target for Anaheim and in flirtations with the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers in the hours before Epstein swooped in, was inked to a seven-year, $142 million deal. He will play left field and possibly bat third for a team that limped to the finish in 2010 with a roster filled with hand-me-downs, but will enter 2011 as intimidating as any out there.
Intimidation is not necessarily Epstein’s goal in all of this, but he knows the presence of Crawford, and Monday’s introductee, Adrian Gonzalez, ought to transform nights at Fenway Park.
“We should have one of the deepest, most dynamic, best lineups in the game,” Epstein said before confirming that he still has work to do in other realms, including the bullpen.
Crawford, who spoke with a rasp due to a scratchy throat (“Of all the days for my voice to leave,” he joked), said that a visit by Epstein and Francona to his Houston home a few weeks ago was pivotal in the signing process. That moment, unlike those with similarly interested teams that didn’t give him the same impression, set the tone.
The rest of the process simply followed that same path, right up to the point that Crawford found out his 6-year-old son was a closet Red Sox fan. Once Gonzalez was acquired, things sped up, as the 29-year-old began to glance at what was possible in Boston and knew he could be part of something special, if not something his little boy would appreciate.
“Playing with those kinds of guys, you want to be a part of that,” he said.
In addition, after nine seasons in Tampa Bay playing for mostly losing teams in front of sparse crowds, the transformation from uncertainty and lack of interest to packed houses and a winning forecast has Crawford giddy about the prospects of the next seven years.
He has even dared to dream about his place in franchise history when it’s all said and done.
“Hopefully, I can go down as one of the best left fielders here,” he said when asked about a lineage that includes Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Manny Ramirez.
It’s not much of a stretch as long as Crawford stays healthy and fits into the lineup the way he thinks he can, whether batting between Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez in the third spot, atop the lineup on days Jacoby Ellsbury needs a rest, or perhaps further down, providing a speed dynamic in the middle of the order.
For one, Crawford may already be the best defensive left fielder in club history, without even fielding a fly ball in the park in a Red Sox uniform. Two, milestones that should etch his name into Red Sox lore will be in sight by the end of the term. Averaging 200 hits a year for the duration of the contract, not a complete stretch with the support he will get here and the Green Monster with which to play pinball with, he would be on the precipice of 3,000, a number only one player has reached in Boston before (Yastrzemski).
That watch is for another day. Epstein is just focused on April 1, when Crawford should be penciled into left field for the opener in Texas.
“He’s a game-changer,” Epstein said.
Perhaps, someday, Crawford will be known as a franchise changer.
Saturday’s news conference coincided with “Christmas at Fenway,” the traditional ticket on-sale event that sees fans line up outside the ticket office for the first stab at seats for 2011. How fitting that one of the main attractions was being introduced at the same time.
Come one, come all, see the new-look Red Sox and their merry band of All-Stars.
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