Houston native excited to play in first All-Star Game
By Gary Washburn / MLB.com
Devil Rays speedster Carl Crawford has 102 stolen bases in his 299 career Major League games. (Ben Platt/MLB.com)
HOUSTON -- Like the splendid defensive player he is, Carl Crawford sat in a hotel just a few miles from where he grew up and fielded several questions about his decision to pursue baseball instead of football.
If you didn't know already, Texas is football country. And regardless how well the Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder fares in his career, there will be those in his hometown who wonder whether he made the right choice.
Crawford, who is a key part of the Devil Rays' resurgence and climb to respectability, signed a football scholarship with the University of Nebraska just months before being drafted by the Devil Rays.
"I was very close to going to Nebraska," Crawford said Monday. "All I was waiting for was the draft, and the draft was going to dictate my decision. I was really ready to play football. It's funny how the tables turned."
Crawford was a three-sport star at Jefferson Davis High School near Houston's Fifth Ward. He was offered a basketball scholarship from UCLA and also was being scouted as a standout baseball player. Crawford made the unpopular decision to sign with the Devil Rays in an area that reveres its football and basketball stars, but is more indifferent about baseball.
Carl Crawford / LF
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: L
With some teams scared off by his potential football career, Crawford fell to the Devil Rays in the second round. The Rays made him an offer that encouraged him push aside his playbooks and head to the minor leagues.
"The day they came to me with a $1.5 million offer," was his response when asked when he decided to sign with Tampa Bay. "They were offering me $1.5 million and a chance to help my family. Once I got to the minor leagues, I saw how far I was away from being in the Major Leagues. But heck no, I don't regret my decision. I am in the Major Leagues. I worked hard to get here but I am having a good time."
As Crawford was chatting with the media, he caught a familiar face amongst the crowd. Standing feet from him with a media credential was Michael Hokum, Crawford's high school Algebra teacher. Crawford hugged his old mentor and joked about how he and his classmates would distract their teacher by simply saying the University of Texas would beat his beloved Texas A&M.
"We used to have fun in his class," Crawford said with a big smile. "It was one of my favorite classes. He was one of the guys who helped me along during that time."
Crawford is only 22 and is not that far removed from his neighborhood days. But when he returns home, the ball fields are definitely not filled with kids eager to be the next Carl Crawford.
"They may ask me why I play a sport like baseball," he said. "I say, 'Are you crazy? This is what you need to play right here.' The kids want to see someone like themselves out there playing baseball and hopefully they can see that in me.
"I remember seeing George Foreman in the neighborhood one day and saying 'I want a car like that.' That's what motivated me."
In just his second full season, Crawford is hitting .304 with four homers, 34 RBIs and 38 stolen bases. He is a classic speedster who torments pitchers with various shakes and fakes while on first base. He, along with Rocco Baldelli, represents the Devil Rays' bright future. Add into the mix top prospects Delmon Young and B.J. Upton, and Tampa Bay could soon become a force in the American League East.
The Rays are in third place at the All-Star break for the first time in club history and went 32-17 after beginning the season 10-28.
"I think everybody in the clubhouse knew we had a better team that how we were playing," Crawford said. "So we played harder, pitched better and brought everything together and I think we're showing what we can do. B.J. and Delmon are going to be good, I have seen them play and when they get here we are going to be an up and coming team.
"Right now this is a dream come true to play at home. I couldn't ask for anything better than playing in the All-Star Game in my hometown. I am from right here, and I am proud of that."
Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.