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Get your game on
It's time for the Devil Rays All-Star Carl Crawford to go play, and he's more than ready.
By ANNA COSTELLO, Times X-Team
Published April 4, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Not many athletes get the opportunity to choose among three sports. Not many get to play in a major-league baseball All-Star Game at 22. And not many still can stay modest while doing it.
Carl Crawford, who starts his fourth season today for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, makes it all look easy.
Crawford, 23, roams leftfield for the Rays. He returned to his usual position after spending most of the spring in center to replace Rocco Baldelli, who is recovering from left knee surgery.
After high school, Crawford was offered a football scholarship to the University of Nebraska to be an option quarterback and a basketball scholarship to UCLA to be a point guard.
"I chose baseball because it was the quickest way to get my family in a better situation with the signing bonus the Rays offered me, right out of high school," Crawford says. He received a $1.55-million signing bonus in 1999. During spring training, which ended Saturday with a game against the Washington Nationals, Crawford let a reporter into his world for a day, discussing everything from his pregame routine to his off-the-field fun.
Many fans come to the ballpark about an hour before each game hoping to catch the athletes for a quick picture or autograph. But the players, coaches, staff and crew get there much earlier. During spring training, when most games begin about 1 p.m., Crawford arrives at Progress Energy Park about 7 a.m. "I usually come in to get stretched out, relaxed and my mind set for the game," he says. "It is just like coming to work so I don't get nervous anymore."
He then grabs a bite to eat, "eggs and biscuits or whatever they have at the field." About 9:30 a.m., the Rays gather to stretch and throw as a team. Batting practice follows, then pregame warmup drills. When Crawford is finished, he eats lunch and takes a shower before the game.
Before the game? Yes, he says, because "you got to look good for the fans."
When he's not at the field, Crawford hangs out with friends at his place, plays PlayStation and sometimes goes out for a night on the town. He hasn't bought a home in the bay area because, he says, his "future is uncertain." Crawford is in contract negotiations with the team.
Crawford, a Houston native, returned home when he represented the Rays in the 2004 All-Star Game at Minute Maid Park. He describes it as the opportunity of a lifetime and says he "was glad that I could play in front of my hometown crowd." Crawford says he "never loses touch with anyone," including his friends back home.
As many young athletes look up to Crawford, "on the field I look up to . . . veteran players, and off the field I look up to my family members who have been there for me since the beginning."
Despite all of the recognition - not to mention the salary and signing bonus - Crawford remains modest. He does not look at himself as a public icon: "I'll never change because that's not who I am." Crawford says he tries to focus on the game, not the crowd, but when the opportunity presents itself, he is willing to interact with the fans.
"I don't think of fans as people who come out to see me play, I block all of that out during the game," he says. "Although it is a nice feeling to see people there to support you, and you always try to do something a little extra for them."
Vince Naimoli, the team's managing general partner and chief executive officer, says he is "happy that (Crawford) chose baseball instead of football or basketball. Crawford is a wonderful young man and a great role model. The other coaches have said that you tell him something once and he'll absorb it like a sponge. He'll adjust wherever he plays."
- Anna Costello, 17, is in 12th grade at St. Petersburg High School.