Crawford returns to old stomping grounds

Crawford returns to old stomping grounds

Crawford returns to old stomping grounds
ST. PETERSBURG -- Sometime around 3:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, a familiar face made his way from the visiting clubhouse at Tropicana Field toward the inside batting facility located behind the home dugout. He held a bat in his right hand, clearly ready to go to work.

The scene looked so familiar. Carl Crawford had spent countless hours hitting in the facility, only he'd never done so wearing a Boston Red Sox uniform.

Still, he remains the same unassuming guy who endeared himself to an area and generally is regarded as the best player to play for the Rays. When a reporter asked him about getting back on track after a slow start with the Red Sox, Crawford smiled and offered his familiar, "Yeah, buddy, hot weather's finally here."

Crawford's little chuckle followed.

Was it weird going to the visiting clubhouse?

"It was a little different, Crawford said. "I still went into the home clubhouse first and just said hello to everybody. But it was a little different."

Tuesday night served as the final bridge for Crawford to cross since signing a seven-year, $142-million contract to play for the Red Sox: playing in a game at his old stomping grounds.

Crawford's last appearance at Tropicana Field had been bittersweet. The Rays bowed out of the playoffs on Oct. 12, when Texas defeated Tampa Bay, 5-1, in Game 5 of the American League Division Series. In the waning moments of the game, Tropicana Field rang with a chorus directed toward its favorite son, "C-A-R-L C-R-A-W-F-O-R-D! C-A-R-L C-R-A-W-F-O-R-D!

While the Red Sox enjoyed an off-day Monday, Crawford said he received a nice reception from fans while he was out and about.

"It was cool," he said. "Everybody was nice, had good things to say. Nobody was upset."

On Tuesday night, there were no boos when he came out before the game. He stretched, stood at attention for the national anthem along the left-field line and then returned to the dugout signing autographs along the way.

Crawford didn't feel any added pressure in returning to St. Petersburg.

"I just want to go out there and play the way I have the last couple of weeks," he said.

Batting in the sixth spot, Crawford finally stepped to the plate in the first inning to face James Shields with the bases loaded. A smattering of boos at first greeted him, before fans stood and cheered for the former Rays left-fielder, easily drowning out the boos.

Crawford grounded to first baseman Casey Kotchman, who flipped to Shields covering first and Crawford's first Boston at-bat at Tropicana Field was finally over.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.