July 4, 2012

Steve Solloway: Still waiting for Crawford to return

By Steve Solloway ssolloway@pressherald.com
Columnist

PORTLAND — You've got five minutes alone with Carl Crawford after Tuesday night's ballgame. Go ahead, imagine. Ask the $142 million Red Sox outfielder anything you want.

Ray Richard of Westbrook thought for all of about five seconds. " 'When are you going to start earning your money?' I'd ask him that. So far he's been a bust."

Ouch.

Crawford was in a Portland Sea Dogs uniform, playing left field and batting leadoff. The Red Sox season is coming up on the halfway point and Crawford hasn't played one game for them in 2012. Wrist surgery and then a sprained left elbow have kept out of a major league lineup.

He's working his way back, which brought him to Hadlock Field.

"When's he coming back? That's what I'd ask him," said Jim Carey of Schuylerville, N.Y., north of Albany.

He was on vacation in Old Orchard Beach with his wife. He's a Red Sox fan who dug deep into his wallet to get tickets to the soldout game.

"We need some pop in the lineup. We need him back."

Skepticism mixed with hope Tuesday. Crawford was a four-time American League All-Star with the Tampa Bay Rays. He was the big free-agent signing heading into last season.

But his hitting and fielding haven't lived up to the expectations of Red Sox fans.

"I'd ask him how comfortable he is playing in Boston compared to Tampa Bay, said Nancy Lamare of Falmouth, who walked into Hadlock with her husband and teenage son. "It's been night and day. He was lights-out in Tampa and in the gutter in Boston. Why was that?"

Yes, his introduction was greeted with warm applause. The welcome mat was out. This is Maine, after all. "I'll clap for him," said Richard. "I won't stand up for him."

The Red Sox grand collapse of last September was almost 10 months ago. The fans' anger has mostly waned. Crawford had 24 hits in 23 games. He wasn't the face of a good team gone bad.

He was the guy who couldn't come up with the catch in left field on Robert Andino's sinking line drive in the last inning of the last game of the season. Baltimore won and the Red Sox were out of the playoffs.

Blame Crawford? No, too many of his teammates didn't step up in the last month of the season.

"Five minutes with Crawford? I'd keep it positive," said Keith Hillock, a Westbrook native now living in Arizona. "What are your expectations? What do you think can happen when you get back? I think he'd answer that."

Hillock's 13-year-old son, Eddie, had a simpler question. "How do you feel about Kevin Youkilis being traded?"

In this ballpark that's a good question. Youkilis was a Sea Dogs player. So were Jon Lester and Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury and so many others who have a history with this city. Crawford doesn't. His only season in a Red Sox uniform was the worst in recent memory, leaving a sourness that has lingered.

"I'd ask him who inspired him, who encouraged him to be a ballplayer," said Rita Smith of Westbrook. I asked her if she was a school teacher. "How did you guess?"

The Sea Dogs lost, 11-3. Crawford walked in his first at-bat, later stole third and scored the game's first run. He fouled a pitch and it went off his kneecap. About 7,000 people drew in their breath and held it.

Crawford was OK. He used his speed again for an infield single. He made a throw from the outfield and felt no pain.

After he left the game in the seventh inning, he came out of the clubhouse for his five minutes of questions from the media. There really wasn't a lot to say. He knows that the ballplayer he was in Tampa hasn't yet worn a Red Sox uniform.

"I'm working to get back to that form. A lot has been said about me. I know I've got to go out and be myself."

He's encouraged.

That's his answer. 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

 

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