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Crawford gets up to speed

He is adjusting to Sox spotlight

The media and fan attention Carl Crawford got in Tampa is nothing like the Boston experience. The media and fan attention Carl Crawford got in Tampa is nothing like the Boston experience. (J. Meric/Getty Images)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 10, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Carl Crawford will face his former team today for the first time when he accompanies the Red Sox to Port Charlotte, Fla., and starts in left field against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays will start Andy Sonnanstine, a righthander Crawford played with for four years. Other friends will be on the field or in the dugout.

“It’s going to be weird just being on the other side of the field, facing one of the guys I played games with all the time,’’ Crawford said. “I’ve just got to get used to it. You’ve just got to get used to it.’’

In all, Crawford spent 12 years in the Rays organization and holds franchise records for games, batting average, runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBIs, and stolen bases.

Were it up to Crawford, he might have spent his career with the Rays. But Tampa Bay, which cut deeply into its payroll this season, could not afford him. The Red Sox could, and Crawford moved to one of the mansions in the American League East, accepting a seven-year, $142 million deal in December.

There are adjustments to be made almost every day as he learns a new team and eventually a new city. A player of Crawford’s status could have sat out today’s game and pushed the reunion back. But he never said a word to manager Terry Francona.

“I’m not going to duck anything,’’ he said.

Crawford, 29, eased into his transition to the Red Sox. He was one of the last position players to arrive at camp, choosing to continue his private workouts in Houston before traveling to Florida. Crawford was diligent and accommodating once he got into uniform but often dressed quickly and left when his duties were over.

That has started to change. Crawford now lingers in the clubhouse after games, joining David Ortiz and Marco Scutaro for long discussions and talking about hitting with prospects Jose Iglesias and Juan Carlos Linares.

Crawford also readily trades jokes with Dustin Pedroia, a former offseason workout partner. He and Jacoby Ellsbury have playfully debated who is faster.

He also is one of the first players to arrive, putting in time in the weight room and cage before many of his teammates have had breakfast.

“The man works hard,’’ said backup outfielder Darnell McDonald. “We’ve all seen that. He’s one of those guys who takes care of business. He’s good people.’’

The other adjustment has come off the field as Crawford learns to handle a new level of attention from fans and media.

The fan aspect he seems to enjoy. Crawford has marveled at the Red Sox drawing capacity crowds to nearly every spring training game and he is one of the few players who makes time for autograph seekers on a daily basis, stopping to sign for even large crowds.

After years of playing before acres of empty seats at Tropicana Field, Crawford relishes the idea of full houses at Fenway Park.

“A reporter from Tampa asked me about whether I could handle playing in front of large crowds all the time,’’ said Crawford. “Isn’t that a good thing? I think so.’’

The media demands, Crawford said, were daunting at first. The Rays have three beat writers, two representing newspapers and another from MLB.com. Three newspapers, four websites, and a radio station send reporters on the road with the Red Sox. Home games garner even more coverage.

Crawford was the big story at the start of camp, especially with fellow star newcomer Adrian Gonzalez recovering from an injury. But that has abated.

“I think he’s figured it out,’’ said Francona. “I think he’s noticing that there’s more attention and more questions asked of him than he had before. He had his routine for a lot of years and that’ll probably change a little bit.

“He’s been in the big leagues a long time, he’s played in the World Series. He knows how to handle himself.’’

Yankees ace CC Sabathia, who went from Milwaukee to New York in 2009, understands the challenge of moving to a much larger market. He and Crawford, who are close friends, discussed the issue a few weeks ago.

“Carl is easy to get along with, that’s the big thing,’’ Sabathia said. “I’m not worried about him. He has the kind of personality where it’s easy to fit in and he’s obviously a great player.

“You’ve just got be yourself, learn how the team does things, and give people a chance to get to know you. He’ll be fine.’’

But Francona will keep an eye on Crawford. He understands exactly what it feels like to be in the Boston spotlight.

“I kind of thought I understood it. But you don’t until you live through it,’’ Francona said. “But I think we have a good team, good surroundings, and guys who take care of each other.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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