Crawford not ruling out return by Opening Day

Crawford not ruling out return by Opening Day

Crawford not ruling out return by Opening Day
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For Carl Crawford, the final indignity of a season gone horribly wrong was that line drive off the bat of Robert Andino at Camden Yards that glanced off his glove and put a capper on the worst September collapse in baseball history.

"How much did I replay it? As soon as it happened, I let it go," said Crawford. "That's something that, it was over and over, like Lin-sanity almost. It was all the time. So, I had to just try to turn my TV off a little bit, kind of forget it, because it was definitely a sore spot for me. I had that bad cringe in my body every time I saw it."

Though his goal was to regain a positive mindset as soon as his first season ended, Crawford undoubtedly cringed again when Red Sox owner John Henry said during a radio interview in October that he voted against the signing that brought the left fielder to Boston.

"Oh, I can't do [anything] about what he said," Crawford said. "I can just go out and play. It was unfortunate that he feels that way, but there's nothing to say to him, but just go out and play."

Because Crawford is human, he wasn't terribly pleased to hear what Henry said.

"Oh, I wasn't happy about it. I was a little surprised to hear the comments," Crawford said. "But like I said, it was unfortunate he feels that way. I wish that those words hadn't come out."

Crawford isn't sure if or when he will meet with Henry, but he's not too concerned about it anyway. Henry took steps on Monday to clarify his previous comments in a text message to the Boston Globe.

"Again, this wasn't about Carl," Henry said. "At the time, I was opposed due to too many lefties in the lineup and particularly in the outfield. Also, our two best prospects were left-handed hitters. My answer was an honest, off-the-cuff response on a radio station to a false assertion that ownership signed him for offseason PR purposes. This was a baseball decision I ultimately backed."

Crawford said that his focus right now is on making sure he recaptures the form that made him an All-Star for the Tampa Bay Rays.

"Last year was probably one of the toughest things I've had to go through," Crawford said. "For whatever reason it was, I struggled, and it was really hard to deal with. I had a lot of time to think about it and make corrections, and I think things will be better."

In 2011, Crawford hit .255, some 38 points below his career average. He added in 11 homers and 18 stolen bases, easily his lowest amount of thefts for a season in which he played at least 100 games.

On defense, Crawford also appeared tentative at times, as evidenced by that final, fateful play in Baltimore.

Now he admits it was all probably spinning a little too fast for him after signing a seven-year, $142 million contract, moving from a small market to one that lives and breathes baseball.

"You just really try to clear your head. The main thing is to put last season behind, to start fresh," Crawford said. "That was bad. Everybody saw what happened. It was well-documented. The main thing is just to let that go and try to start over and do what you've normally done for the last nine years."

In standup fashion, Crawford refused to use discomfort in his wrist as a reason for his struggles last year.

"I don't know. I was out of whack in so many ways last year that the wrist was minor," Crawford said. "I got a few shots in, so it was feeling fine. I think I was out of whack so much last year that it didn't really have much to do with it."

Three days before position players are even due to be in camp, Crawford was on a back field on Monday, throwing with the surgically repaired wrist.

"[Manager] Bobby [Valentine] saw me out there throwing today," said Crawford. "He didn't even know I was going to throw. He told me the same thing -- don't rush. I'm not trying to rush. I'm only going to do what feels good. I definitely want to be back on the field as soon as possible, so I've got to channel my feelings and make sure I do the right thing."

Crawford isn't sure when he will be cleared to hit. Though general manager Ben Cherington and Valentine have both sounded skeptical that he can make it back in time for Opening Day, the competitor in Crawford refuses to rule it out.

"I don't know. In my mind, I think the odds are good," Crawford said. "I definitely don't want to miss any games. My goal right now is to make it for Opening Day."

"It was great to see him," Valentine said. "His health looks much better than I expected. I'm pleasantly surprised."

And whenever Crawford gets back on the field, he wants to play with confidence that, in turn, makes him relaxed.

"I'm definitely excited to do that," Crawford said. "I think I put a lot of pressure on myself last year. I never played that way before. I'm just going to try to stay relaxed and be myself."

Perhaps he can also find a home in the batting order. He opened the season in the No. 3 spot, but was moved out as soon as the third game. For the rest of the season, in large part due to his struggles, manager Terry Francona juggled him around.

Where will he hit this season?

"That's the big question," Crawford said. "I'm not sure where Bobby wants to hit me. Ideally, you know, I've always hit at the top of the order. With speed like that, I can't do much hitting behind Big Papi. I don't know where he's going to put me at, but you know, we'll just have to wait and see."

Valentine will keep his options open, saying only that Crawford will hit where he best fits in the entire scope of the lineup.

Perhaps Crawford will settle right in and be the classic example of the star player who performs much better in the second year of a free-agent deal in a big market than the first.

"It definitely helps to kind of know what to expect a little bit, so you can prepare a little bit better," Crawford said. "I think I'm a little bit more prepared now. I'm pretty sure there's going to be some more obstacles and things to come that I wasn't ready for, but after doing one year of it, I think I'm a little bit better prepared."

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.