Editor's note: Each day this week, Tony Lee will examine one part of Carl Crawford's journey to major league stardom. On Thursday, his patience and dedication to the Rays during their down years was covered.
"You want to be a part of that."
When Carl Crawford uttered those words earlier this month while being introduced to Boston media and responding to a question regarding his new set of teammates, he was not dissing Tampa Bay, the organization which gave him his start and allowed him to rise to stardom. But it was impossible for him to glance at the roster in Boston, one which now included the speed demon, and have any other kind of reaction.
Crawford had several trying years with the Rays and a few in which he finally tasted success. The last three years saw the organization trump the venerable Red Sox — Tampa Bay won two of the last three American League East Division titles and defeated Boston in the 2008 American League Championship Series.
But if you are a free agent bent on making a move that will define your career, comparing the two is like apples and oranges. When Crawford dreamt up hitting behind Dustin Pedroia and in front of Adrian Gonzalez at Fenway Park, as opposed to whatever would surround him in 2011 at Tropicana Field, he had to shake his head at the prospect of such an upgrade.
While nobody expects Gonzalez to struggle in a Red Sox uniform, there does figure to be an adjustment period. Crawford, meanwhile, practically grew up at Fenway Park. He was there when Boston used to beat Tampa Bay to a pulp on an annual basis. He was there when the rivalry bubbled up in 2008, and he was there when the Rays overtook their hated AL East brethren and became the team to beat in the best division in baseball.
Those who watched it all happen saw a guy who matured tremendously, and therefore expect a seamless transition.
"I think we have watched Carl Crawford turn into a baseball player over the years," said NESN play-by-play man Don Orsillo, whose first season behind the mike for the Red Sox coincided with Crawford's first full season in the majors. "When he started he was about as raw a talent as you could find. All the tools, just not mastered or honed. Pure athlete, first and foremost. I remember the words of my friend Brian Daubach who used to say, 'We are not athletes, we are baseball players.'
"This guy is an athlete and has made himself a great baseball player."
Crawford played 144 games against the Red Sox in his career. Basically a full season, batting .300 with more hits (181) and stolen bases (62) than against any other opponent. When he begins to blow up in the middle of a lineup loaded with potential, it’ll be like old hat, only he'll be wearing a new one. That’s what makes the All-Star left fielder, who is coming off a career year, primed for that next big step.
"There won't be many adjustments, except to the cold," Crawford joked at his Fenway Park news conference. "The AL East is so exciting and I really wanted to stay in the AL East. When I heard Boston was interested, I was definitely excited."
As part of that introductory meeting with the media back on Dec. 11, Crawford was asked about what it was like to play a position as hallowed as left field for the Boston Red Sox. With names like Williams, Yastrzemski, Rice, Greenwell and (ahem) Ramirez bouncing around in his head, the Sox' speedster considered the question and delivered a response that would never be necessary in a place like Tampa Bay.
"Hopefully, I can go down as one of the best left fielders here," he said.
Crawford already was the best left fielder, and perhaps the best player, in the history of the Rays' organization. But bidding for immortality in a place like Boston? That’s something you want to be part of.
Check out Tony Lee's complete five-part series on the latest Red Sox All-Star, Carl Crawford, below.
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