"Crawford, he gets a single and it's like, 'Thanks for the double,' pretty much," Hinske said. "Pitchers know that. They don't like to pitch from the stretch."
And Carlos Pena sums up the feeling in the Rays' clubhouse about Crawford.
"I think he's one of the best players in baseball, hands down," Pena said.
Borrowing some vintage Reggie Jackson-speak, Crawford indeed is the straw that stirs the drink for the Rays. While the 2007 contributions of Pena and B.J. Upton were the trendy topics of the offseason, Crawford remains the constant in Tampa Bay's lineup and the player teams fear most when lining up against the young and athletic club.
Every team must prepare for Crawford's speed. He once again won the American League's stolen-base title in 2007, his fourth crown, despite missing the last 12 games of the season with a left groin strain.
According to "Bill James' New Gold Mine," Crawford is fourth in stolen bases over the past three years, behind Jose Reyes, Juan Pierre and Chone Figgins, but he has a better stolen-base percentage (85 percent) than those other players.
And the hits just keep coming for the 26-year-old star.
In 2007, Crawford became just the seventh player in the modern era (since 1900) to increase his average over five consecutive seasons (minimum 250 at-bats per season), and the first to do it at the start of his career. His .315 average was the highest in club history.
"It was so much fun to come over [to the Rays] and watch him play every day," Pena said. "The way he hustles, the way he runs the bases [is impressive]. And he can hit. I understand that he's fast, and you might think a fast guy is going to bunt and do this or that. But he hits. And he hits liners in the gap. Bullets. He's not one of those bunters.
"He's a great hitter. So to watch him every day was a thrill. He's younger than me, like five years, but I will go up to him and ask him questions. He knows a lot about hitting. I see him in the cage and I want to talk to him. He's earned respect from all his peers on this team and on other teams. He's earned it."
For all of Crawford's success, he's never content and remains driven to get better.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
"I just know I haven't done everything I can do," Crawford said. "If I had all the information that I could possibly learn, I might be content. But there's so much stuff that I don't know and can get better at. So it would be dumb for me to say this is the best I can do.
"I don't know if I'm a perfectionist. But if I feel like I can get better at something, I'm always trying to find out how. I'm always looking for those answers. Because when you hear from your teammates, your peers and the coaches that we still haven't seen the best yet, that makes you want to search for it and dig deep to find what they see your potential can be."
In line with Crawford's never-satisfied persona is his offseason fitness regimen. He even added a home gym to his house in Phoenix.
"I was able to keep my body tuned up until it was time to go," Crawford said, "because usually I just kind of sit around for two or three months. This time I was able to keep my body tuned up nice and well until it was time to workout."
Crawford focused on strengthening his legs during the offseason.
"I told you guys I was going to really try and get my legs as strong as I could," Crawford said. "I wasn't lying about that. I don't want to harp on it, I don't want to be negative or nothing, but that ... new turf [at Tropicana Field] was a challenge for me. And I wanted to attack it head on this offseason.
"That's what I did. So we'll see. I know I'm going to have to stick with it more during the season, keeping my legs in shape. I know they're going to count on me and B.J. to play a lot and do stuff like that. I'm gong to try and preach it to him, too -- keep his legs strong. We're going to have to try and stay in shape this season."
Crawford stressed that players just have to try to find time to get into the weight room.
"I know we play long games," Crawford said. "You just have to go in there and get the workout done -- takes 15 or 20 minutes."
Crawford also is in tune with what foods he puts in his body, an awareness that prompted him to cut ties with an old friend, Taco Bell.
"Yeah, I had to let it go," said Crawford, who professed to an affinity for Taco Supremes. "I had to let it go, at least for right now. I started doing something differently for the eating plan, and it turns out I have more energy. I think I'm going to stick with that for a while."
A reporter teased that Taco Bell could win him back with an endorsement contract, but Crawford stuck to his guns.
"Not right now, it's too important," Crawford said. "Last year, I'd feel a little sluggish. Then I started the diet. And after a month I started finishing workouts with a lot of energy and I was ready for the next day, upbeat. It really affects how you feel."
Crawford explained that he now has a list of foods he's not supposed to eat. He confessed he doesn't stick to the plan 100 percent, "but I try to stay with it about 80 percent of the time."
"I try not to eat at night so much, all that heavy food," Crawford said. "I don't know how much it's going to last during the season, but I've been keeping up with it pretty good so far."
Crawford reported to camp at a chiseled 220 pounds.
"That's about normal," Crawford said. "When the [2007 season] was over, I was almost like 230 and I was like, 'Whoa.' That's really why I started that diet. I don't know what it was, sitting on the bench [at the end of the season] for two weeks or what. I don't ever want to get that size again."
But no more Taco Supremes?
"I'm not caving," Crawford said.
Which is bad news to AL teams looking for ways to stop Crawford.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less