07/04/2004 7:00 PM ET
Crawford is Devil Rays' All-Star
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
|Carl Crawford can become the fourth-youngest player to win consecutive steals titles. (Scott Martin/AP)
MIAMI -- Speedster Carl Crawford will be going home to Houston after being named the Devil Rays' representative for the All-Star Game.
"It's definitely good to be going home to play," he said. "It's been a stressful week. People said maybe I would go, but I always said it was a long shot. I didn't see it coming. I don't know how I pulled this one off.
"I've called everybody back home. They are excited. And now I've got to come up with some tickets. I don't know what I'm going to do."
Crawford was excited upon getting the news but even happier once he found out he was voted in on the players' ballot.
"That's even better," he said. "It shows that the guys think a lot of you."
Crawford said he sees his first All-Star Game as a reward.
"It's big," he said. "It lets me know my hard work in the offseason paid off. And it's important [to be doing well], because I didn't want to be the default player. I didn't want people saying, 'Why is he here?' I wanted to earn it, and I feel like I did."
Manager Lou Piniella said there was no question for him.
"I'm proud of Carl," he said. "He deserves it. He's had a heck of a first half. I was hoping for two or three [All-Stars], but if anybody had to go, Carl was the right choice."
Crawford is batting .317 with three home runs and 30 RBIs. He led the American League in stolen bases last season with 55. He leads the Majors with 38 steals this year, giving him 102 in his career.
"Carl is blessed with a lot of skills," said Piniella. "He didn't spend much time in the minors, so he's really learning how to play the game at the big league level. He's gotten better in many ways since I came here."
Crawford was the eighth Major Leaguer in history to steal 100 bases before the age of 23. He is attempting to become the fourth-youngest player ever to win consecutive stolen base titles.
"Crawford impressed me last year," said Joe Torre, manager of the Yankees and the American League All-Star team. "He can run ... and he's not as small as he first appears, so he's got a little pop. His speed is scary. I like him a lot."
Crawford has tied his career high with four hits in a game five times this season.
"Crawford is an exciting player," said Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre. "He's got all the dimensions to his game, he's just got to be more consistent to be a superstar. The two games [the Rays] beat us last weekend were because of his speed."
Crawford was hitting .268 at the All-Star break last season and struggling to find his batting stroke when Piniella assigned hitting coach Lee Elia to work closely with him.
"We opened up his stance halfway through last season, and he started seeing the ball better," said Piniella. "The second half of the year, he started to come into his own. He really refined his game."
Crawford, who is hitting .391 in Interleague games, hit .297 the second half of 2003 and carried the momentum into the 2004 season. His speed has helped him energize the Devil Rays, who are enjoying their best stretch of baseball ever. They are in third place in the American League East and above .500 later in the season than they ever have been.
"C.C. is a big reason," said third baseman Aubrey Huff. "It seems like every time I come up, he's on base and has moved to second base on a steal and third base on another steal or a ground ball or something. That's an easy RBI."
Crawford's speed has become a weapon against which opponents have to defend.
"He forces the infield to rush," said Marlins bullpen coach Tony Taylor. "When you play infield, you think about him. I've been in this game nearly 50 years, and he's the fastest I've seen. It's fun to watch. Cool Papa Bell was the only one faster, and he once hit a line drive that hit him in the rear as he rounded second base."
Crawford has had two triples in a game three times this season. He is tied for fourth in the AL in runs scored, with 58, and has stolen two bases in a game 15 times.
Crawford is fifth in the AL in hits, with 101, and is on pace for 212 hits. Only seven players in the Majors have had that many hits at the same age: Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, Lloyd Waner, Alex Rodriguez, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Fred Lindstrom.
Crawford doesn't really keep track of the historic aspects of what he's done. He's still enjoying life in the Major Leagues and looking forward to playing in front of his hometown fans, some for the first time.
"[Minute Maid Park] is a nice stadium," he said. "I want to hit. But I'm thinking that since I'm not a starter, I'll go in late in the game, maybe pinch-run or something.
"I'm a little nervous, but I am looking forward to the home run hitting contest and everything else."
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.