Crawford glad to join forces with former foes

Crawford glad to join forces with former foes

Crawford glad to join forces with former foes
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Including the postseason, Carl Crawford played competitively against the Red Sox 151 times, the most vs. any opponent. His 191 hits and 65 stolen bases vs. Boston also mark personal bests.

So if you can't stop Crawford, you might as well sign him for seven years at $142 million, right?

It is a union that has created a lot of smiles from both sides since it first became official in December. And there were plenty more on Friday, when Crawford held his introductory Spring Training news conference.

But when Crawford first walked into his new clubhouse on Thursday morning, the feeling was a little, well, strange.

"It was new for me and I thought I was ready for it, but I still really wasn't," said Crawford. "It was kind of like I was daydreaming a little bit. You know, today I felt more comfortable, and I figure as each and every day goes on, I'm going to get more comfortable."

He certainly seemed at ease during his 17-minute session with the media on Friday, acknowledging the inevitability of greater scrutiny from the fans and media.

"If I'm not [ready], I better get ready pretty soon," said Crawford. "I'm not worried about fans being at the game or anything. That's one of my least worries. I'm excited to have a chance to play in front of all those people. Whether or not I do good or bad, you know, just the chance to do something like that is exciting enough, and I don't really think I'm going to fall to that [pressure] much."

So now Crawford will team up with the same people he was so consumed with beating for all those years -- the team he helped Tampa Bay topple in a memorable seven-game American League Championship Series in 2008.

Just like the Red Sox had great disdain for Crawford, the left fielder can now admit that facing Jon Lester was no picnic. Nor did Crawford particularly enjoy watching his pitchers try to finish off Dustin Pedroia or Kevin Youkilis. You think his stomach was settled when David Ortiz stepped to the plate with the game on the line?

"Well, I'm happy I don't have to face their pitching staff," Crawford said. "Lester, he always gave me problems. Dustin was one guy, when I saw him [in the clubhouse], I was like, 'I'm glad I don't have to face you again.' The other guys were always tough on me. Just over time, I think we built up a little rivalry between the Red Sox when I was with the Rays. We wanted to beat the Red Sox really bad."

And Boston manager Terry Francona really couldn't stand facing Crawford. On May 3, 2009, the left fielder ran roughshod through Jason Varitek and the Sox, stealing six bases.

"I thought he was just going from first to third without even going to second," Francona said.

"Jason, when I went up to Boston in [December], we talked about it," said Crawford. "We just kind of gave each other a hug, buried the hatchet a little bit. I let him know, 'I'm on your side now, so you don't have to worry about all that.'"

Varitek is glad that Crawford is no longer his problem.

"Did I hate him? No. Do I want him on our side? Yeah -- that's a little different story," said Varitek.

Even when Crawford wasn't trying to hurt Crawford, he did. On June 30, it was Crawford who hit the foul ball that broke Varitek's right foot.

When asked by some media members about Crawford on Friday afternoon, Varitek came up with a creative response.

"Carl, I'm so glad to have you," said Varitek. "First, you never let me throw you out -- and then I found out I did once. Secondly, you run me over at the plate, jacked up my neck [in the 2008 ALCS] and you're the guy that caused all my neck problems. And then last year, you fouled a ball off my foot and break my foot. I said, 'You're single-handedly trying to ruin my career. Thank God you're here. You just extended my career four years.'"

There are quite a few memories of Crawford tormenting the Red Sox.

Remember the night in 2006 when Crawford came streaking in from third against startled Red Sox right-hander Jason Johnson for a clean swipe of home? Or Opening Day in 2003, when Crawford ended Theo Epstein's first game as Boston general manager with a walk-off home run?

"All the things that used to aggravate us when he was in a Tampa Bay uniform, hopefully it will excite us now that he's in a Red Sox uniform," Francona said. "He looks awful good in our uniform. When he walked in today, I said it's amazing how you can hate somebody so much in a different uni and then fall in love with them when they're in your uni."

So as Crawford gets used to the feel of the Boston uniform, he will fine-tune his stroke this spring in hopes that it will become perfect for the quirky alignment of Fenway.

"I'll probably focus on trying to hit the ball to left more often," said Crawford. "[David Ortiz] was like, 'If you can hit that Green Monster, try to. A lot of times the wind might be blowing in a lot, so you might hit the ball good and it still might not go anywhere. So if you have a chance to go for that wall, go for it.' That was pretty much the plan I had already, but to hear him say it kind of makes me more comfortable when I'm trying to do it."

So now Crawford gets ready to tackle his first season with the Red Sox after signing the second-richest contract in club history.

"I never imagined this, that I'd get this kind of contract. I've never hit 20 home runs," Crawford said. "I've always been looked at as a speed guy, and I know speed guys weren't really looked upon as highly as home run hitters. But if I can add speed and do everything else right at a high level, maybe I had a chance to be just as valuable. That's what happens. I knew I wasn't going to hit a lot of home runs in my career, so I just worked on everything else and tried to be the best at every other little thing that I could be. It worked out for me."

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.