Thankful, and enjoying every minute of it. The 24-year-old Crow even got to arrive in the Valley of the Sun in style. After Sunday's game against Detroit, Tigers ace Justin Verlander offered him a ride on the private plane Verlander had chartered. Not too shabby. "It was," Crow said, "the epitome of luxury." Especially to a guy who spent last season riding buses in the Class A and Double-A levels. "I know he's the biggest surprise I've had since I've been a pitching coach," said Bill Fischer, the Royals' grizzled senior pitching advisor. "I mean, from finishing a season in Class A to being an All-Star the next year in the Major Leagues, that's never happened before -- not when I've been around."
AL STARTING NINE
Fischer, by the way, has been around. This is his 64th year in professional baseball. Crow finished last season laboring as a starter for the Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks. As a second-time first-round Draft choice -- he rejected the Washington Nationals' offer in 2008 -- Crow didn't sign with the Royals until Sept. 17, 2009, too late to play in the Minors that year. So last year was his first time in the organization. After performing so well in Spring Training 2010 that he was considered for the Major League club, Crow instead started the season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas but bombed. He was demoted to Wilmington. "At this point last year in Double-A, I wasn't doing very well and, at the end of July, I got sent down to High-A," Crow said. "So, if you'd have told me I was going to be in the big leagues, let alone the All-Star Game, I'd have looked at you like you were crazy." His amazing turnaround, however, impressed AL manager Ron Washington, who made him one of his All-Star selections. Crow created a buzz by beginning his career with 15 1/3 scoreless innings and retiring the first batter he faced in his first 13 appearances. Crow became so effective that he became the primary setup man for former All-Star closer Joakim Soria. The statistics that Crow brought to Phoenix include a 2.08 ERA in 36 appearances, a 2-2 record, an opponent average of just .197 and 44 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings. Only recently has he encountered tough times. On July 4 at Chicago, he gave up a go-ahead homer to Adam Dunn and then balked in the winning run in the ninth. Last Thursday, he gave up a homer to Detroit's Don Kelly. "But I don't think this year could've gone any better for me so far," Crow said. "I'm just thankful I was able to turn everything around and start having success again." On Sunday, he tuned up for the All-Star Game with a perfect inning in a tight game against the Tigers. "You just have to believe in yourself and not try to change what you did in the Minor Leagues," Crow said. "At the end of the day, you might have watched these guys on TV for 10 years, but they still have weaknesses and you can still get them out. You just have to believe in yourself and do what you can do to get them out." Crow's long-term future might not be in the bullpen. Royals manager Ned Yost already has indicated that Crow will be looked at in a starting role next Spring Training as the Royals try to build a more effective starting rotation. Whatever Crow and his coaches did in the past year, the remarkable transformation seems complete. "Guys that have been in the Major Leagues 10 years swing at him like they're in Little League," Fischer said. This definitely isn't Little League. If that wasn't already abundantly clear, the point was hammered home when Crow boarded that private jet. "It was really nice," he said. "[Verlander] seems like a really generous guy. I overheard him say that when he made his first All-Star Game, somebody did that for him. So hopefully down the road, I can do something like that for somebody."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. MLB.com reporter Dick Kaegel contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.