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Crisp catches some praise

Johnny Damon, who is convinced the Red Sox considered him too old to re-sign, received some further bulletin-board material last night, when general manager Theo Epstein acknowledged that the Sox followed Coco Crisp for a year and a half, to the point that the team feared Crisp's sublime September (.345, 6 homers, 16 RBIs) might cause his value to skyrocket.

''Coco is a guy we had identified quite a ways back," Epstein's assistant, Jed Hoyer, said last night. ''In September we were kind of concerned the secret was out and we weren't going to be able to get him. It was clear we were going to have a tough negotiation with Johnny, and Coco was the top guy on our list."

However, the same things that might have escalated Crisp's value reassured the Sox that he was the guy they wanted.

''Coco was fantastic in the games that mattered most down the stretch," said Hoyer, who made the majority of the calls to Cleveland that culminated in Friday's seven-player deal that brought Crisp, reliever David Riske, and catcher Josh Bard to Boston for Andy Marte, Guillermo Mota, Kelly Shoppach, a player to be named, and cash. ''That's what we looked at a lot. He's also got an energy and swagger that we think will transfer to Fenway."

Crisp exuded that kind of enthusiasm and confidence, but in an unassuming manner, during a conference call last night.

''I love the game," said Crisp, who doesn't turn 27 until November. ''I play hard. I'm not afraid to run into a wall and get hurt, go all out. That's the type of player they love in Boston. I believe that was the type of player Johnny was and why he was so successful. He'll run into walls. If it takes running into walls, that's what I'll do.

''As far as going into his shadow, I don't believe it's like that. I think I've established myself slightly. I want to continue to grow as a player and hopefully bring some excitement and enjoyment to the fans."

There will be an adjustment period, though. Crisp never has played in a large market. He manned left field all of last season and he hit second most of the year. Here, Crisp will succeed Damon at the top of the order, where he has hit just .270 with a .313 on-base percentage in 716 at-bats, compared with .312 with a .357 OBP in 523 at-bats hitting second.

''Coco Crisp is not Johnny Damon," Epstein said. ''He's his own player, and he brings his own strengths. Johnny was an outstanding, elite leadoff hitter and center fielder. It'd be unfair to ask Coco to fill those shoes.

''As far as Crisp playing center field, we're excited. We have excellent scouting reports and objective data on his ability to be a plus center fielder across the board."

Despite his numbers hitting leadoff, Crisp called the top spot ''where I feel most comfortable."

''Before these past two years, primarily all I did was hit leadoff," he said. ''That was my path up to the big leagues. I hit .360 one year [2003 with Buffalo] to catapult me up to the big leagues. That's where I feel most comfortable and would like to be if I had a choice."

Epstein also mentioned that while Crisp has only a .332 career OBP, he has a career .370 OBP outside of Jacobs Field, so, Epstein said, ''we think he has a chance to use Fenway to his advantage."

He probably does, but, for the record, Crisp is a .161 (5 for 31) career hitter at Fenway with eight strikeouts and no walks.

Epstein and Hoyer both addressed the issue of the Sox dealing prospects, something they had committed to avoiding in Epstein's three previous seasons. The club dealt four of its top 10 prospects in shortstop Hanley Ramirez, righthanded starter Anibal Sanchez, Marte, and Shoppach.

''I think it's fair to say we wouldn't have given up Marte for any player with one or two years of control," Epstein said. ''But to get four years of control [Crisp doesn't become a free agent until after the 2009 season] and a player the caliber of Coco Crisp going into his prime, that softens the blow a little for giving up Andy Marte. What we're trying to do is have controllable players in their primes.

''It's not often you get someone for ages 26, 27, 28, 29 who we think will be above average offensively and defensively who has plus makeup."

Epstein acknowledged that Crisp's arm is ''his weakest tool, but he gets rid of the ball quickly. He has plus makeup. He loves to play the game. All our reports say he's an excellent teammate.

''A couple of his strengths complement our weaknesses, which are his plus defense up the middle and speed."

Epstein lauded Hoyer and Cleveland assistant GM Chris Antonetti -- the latter of whom declined a chance to interview for the Sox' open GM post earlier this offseason -- for their dedication to completing this deal.

''I've got to give all the credit in the world to Jed and all the guys in the office," Epstein said. ''This was something that went on for virtually the whole offseason. Jed and Chris Antonetti probably set a club record for a deal. They probably made 100 calls."

And that name, Coco, what is the origin?

''My great grandmother used to call me 'Co' ," said Crisp, whose given name is Covelli. ''My brother and sister got a whiff of the cereal [Cocoa Krispies] and called me Coco. As a kid, you don't like it too much. They asked me what my nickname was when I was in Double A. I said it was Coco.

''They put it on the scoreboard. I got traded [in August 2002] and was up in the big leagues a week and a half later. And I was 'Coco.' When I saw it up there I thought it was terrible because they used to joke with me when I was a kid."

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