07/14/2004 2:48 AM ET
Crawford returns to his roots
HOUSTON -- More than 4.5 million people live in the greater Houston area, yet the city remembers its own as if it were a tiny town.
By Gary Washburn / MLB.com
So when Carl Crawford stepped to the plate on Tuesday for the 75th All-Star Game, the Houston native received a nice round of applause from his home folk.
This week has been quite an experience for the 22-year-old Crawford, who just five years ago left home to embark on a professional baseball career. Perhaps it was a little sooner than expected, but the speedy Crawford played in his first All-Star Game in front of 22 family and friends and a slew of fans who have followed his career.
"Man, I didn't know all those of people knew who I was," he said after the American League's 9-4 victory. "Houston has a lot of people, and I heard them out there. That was a good feeling. It was a fun week. I hope I represented Houston well."
Maybe some of the 41,886 expected Crawford to return as a defensive back for the Houston Texans. He turned down a scholarship to the University of Nebraska to sign with the Devil Rays and is one of the fastest players in the Major Leagues.
He leads the Majors with 38 stolen bases, 16 more than the AL's No. 2 base stealer, Ichiro Suzuki. When Mike Piazza hit a fly ball to left field in the fourth inning, Crawford covered the Minute Maid Park grass like Deion Sanders covering a receiver in the open field.
When asked of his favorite baseball player growing up, Crawford said he didn't have one. Instead, he admired a pair of two-sport athletes that emerged during his childhood. Crawford was just a skinny kid when Bo Jackson and Sanders hit the scene, yet he followed their careers closely.
"The guys I liked played two sports, they could do two sports at one time," he said. "I admired that. Anybody could play one thing, that was boring."
So far Crawford has stuck with baseball, but he has had illusions of returning to the gridiron. What's more, he had an interesting conversation with Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, who remarked that Crawford had lost a step or two since his high school days.
"I told him, 'Man, you don't want me to come out there. 'I'll come out there and make your team,'" he recalls.
Of course, that never occurred. Crawford is having too much fun playing baseball and helping invigorate a Tampa Bay franchise that has not had much success since its inception in 1998. The Rays are in third place at the All-Star break for the first time in club history, and Crawford is a big part of that resurgence.
On Tuesday, Crawford didn't have much of an impact. He struck out against Carlos Zambrano to end the top of the fourth inning. In the sixth, after David Ortiz crushed a home run off Carl Pavano, Crawford ended that frame with a bouncer to second base.
Crawford played until the ninth inning, when he was replaced by pinch hitter Hideki Matsui.
"Everything else was good, but I didn't get a hit," he said. "I was trying to get a hit, but Zambrano, man, he's special. I just tried to make contact. And against Pavano, I didn't get much to hit."
With his first All-Star experience behind him, Crawford heads back to Tampa Bay motivated to help the Rays earn a winning record this season. They are three games below .500 and coming off a four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees.
"We know we don't have the firepower like New York and Boston, but we want to shake things up in the AL East," he said. "We want to make things interesting."
Crawford said the biggest thrill on Tuesday was taking the field at Minute Maid Park with his parents amongst his supporters.
"It was a great feeling playing in front of my parents," he said. "Who knows when this might happen again? So you have to seize the moment and have fun doing it. Hopefully it won't be the last time."
Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.