BOSTON — The importance of first impressions can’t be overstated. Just ask Allen Craig.
Craig, who joined his new Red Sox teammates before Friday’s game against the New York Yankees, expressed excitement over joining a lineup anchored by David Ortiz and fellow newcomer Yoenis Cespedes. He also conveyed enthusiasm over playing at Fenway Park, which left its mark on the former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder/first baseman last October.
“Last year in the World Series was my first time (at Fenway), and I loved it,” Craig said Friday. “I love being here. I love the atmosphere. It was a great experience for me, so I’m happy to be back.”
Craig, who was acquired along with Joe Kelly in exchange for John Lackey before Thursday’s Major League Baseball trade deadline, wound up on the losing end of last year’s Fall Classic, won by the Red Sox. The Cardinals again look poised to make a deep playoff run, though, while his new team is tangled in last place in the American League East.
Yet Craig’s enthusiasm persists.
“I’m excited to be a part of this organization and meet some of these guys,” Craig said. “Obviously, the tradition here is rich, winning the World Series last year. I’m just here to do my part and contribute to another good team. I’ve been really lucky in my career to be with the Cardinals for as long as I was and to get chance to play here is something I’m really excited about.”
Craig will play mostly left field with the Red Sox. The 30-year-old is known more for his bat, however, which is why Boston — a club with well-documented offensive woes — has long coveted the slugger.
“In talking with (general manager) Ben (Cherington), his name has come up quite a while ago during this season. And we’ve been able to finally get him here,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Friday. “This is someone that we feel has got a very good track record. We feel like he’ll fit well in left field here with us — that puts Yoenis in right field, where he’ll get the majority of the reps in right field going forward. So, again, a middle-of-the-order type of bat that we’ve been able to add.”
Craig certainly adds some much-needed pop to Boston’s lineup despite a down season in 2014. He was named an All-Star in 2013 — a season in which he hit .315 with 13 homers, 97 RBIs and an .830 OPS in 134 regular-season games — and finished in the top 20 in National League MVP voting in 2012. Craig hit a major league-best .454 (59-for-130) with runners in scoring position last year, the third-best mark since 1974.
I’m really excited about it,” Craig said of joining the Red Sox. “It’s going to be fun. I feel like I can contribute offense. That’s what I’ve done my entire career and that’s what I feel like I’m going to be able to do — to contribute somewhere in the lineup and just do my thing and drive guys in.”
Craig, who was noticeably hobbled by a foot injury during last year’s World Series, said Friday that the ailment is behind him. It’s been a somewhat disappointing season for Craig — he entered Friday hitting .247 with seven homers, 44 RBIs and a .638 OPS — but the trade to Boston represents an opportunity to start fresh.
“The first half of this season was a huge learning experience for me,” Craig said. “That’s what this game is about, is learning and making adjustments and figuring out what pitchers are going to do to you. I feel like I learned a lot from the first half of my season and I’m ready to look forward.”
Fenway Park already carved out a spot in Craig’s heart. It’ll be an even more welcoming environment if Craig hits the ground running with his new team.