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Crawford enjoyed this turn for home

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / March 31, 2011

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HOUSTON — He grew up not far from where Minute Maid Park now stands.

He went to school 10 minutes away at Jefferson Davis High, where he was a three-sport phenom who could have played quarterback at Nebraska or point guard at UCLA.

But he wound up playing professional baseball after being selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the second round of the 1999 draft.

Although he had dreamed of playing for the Astros, Carl Crawford hasn’t been afforded that opportunity, as his major league career has taken him to the American League East.

But it has allowed him the chance to return to Houston, twice before for interleague games with the Rays and last night with the Red Sox in a 10-0 exhibition victory over the Astros at Minute Maid.

“Anytime I get a chance to come back home and play, it’s a good feeling,’’ said Crawford. “Just a chance to get back home and be able to see my family and friends, play in the stadium against the team I grew up watching, it’s always a good feeling you have inside of you.’’

Crawford wasn’t paying lip service to his hometown team. He grew up wanting to play for the Astros when he watched them at the venerable Astrodome.

“Of course,’’ he said. “Any kid who was into sports here, one of your biggest dreams was to play for one of the Houston teams, whichever sport that might be.’’

So who was his favorite Astro?

“Coming up, it was Craig Biggio,’’ Crawford said. “He was always one that I liked the most.’’

In football, Crawford idolized Oilers quarterback Warren Moon.

In basketball, it was Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon.

Asked if he felt any pressure coming back to Houston, especially after signing a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Red Sox, Crawford said, “No, not really. I kind of like coming back home, because I get to relax a little bit with family and friends, have a little fun and take your mind off the game a little bit.’’

Of course, when you’re a professional athlete and make as much money as Crawford does, people are going to want you to pick up the tab. Last night, Crawford had to come up with tickets, as the requests came pouring in from family and friends.

“I think I left about 70 tickets today — everybody wanted to come,’’ said Crawford, who likely will get similar requests when the Sox return to Houston for a three-game interleague set July 1-3. “In July, I guarantee you it’s not going to be 70. I can guarantee that.’’

While Crawford enjoys coming home, he was reminded of his initial visit in 2003, when the Rays got swept in a three-game series and Crawford went 1 for 8.

“Yeah, that was the first time I came,’’ Crawford said. “We were struggling a little bit then.’’

Crawford’s second homecoming proved to be a little more productive. Last season, he went 6 for 15, scored five runs, and stole four bases in a three-game set May 21-23.

Though spring games don’t count in the standings, Crawford insists that all games matter to him, especially those played in his hometown.

“Whenever I play, I try to have a good showing,’’ he said. “I’ve never liked to play bad against Houston, whether it’s home or on the road. Hopefully, I can continue to play well against them.’’

Last night, Crawford did not disappoint. He went 2 for 4, scored a run, and drove in two, one as part of a five-run outburst in the first inning against Nelson Figueroa. Crawford rapped a single to center that scored Jacoby Ellsbury.

“He’s, I think, what we thought,’’ said Sox manager Terry Francona. “He’s a hard worker, a good kid, he’s fit in real easy.

“I think he’s going to be a really big addition to our ball club. I think that’s stating the obvious. With the contract he signed, obviously we think a lot of him.’’

After signing that contract, Crawford returned to Houston — but it wasn’t to kick back and count his fortune. It was to put in the work he often does during the offseason to prepare for the season.

“It’s one of the reasons I like to train here,’’ Crawford said. “It kind of reminds me why I do the things I do.

“It’s a really humbling situation for me and I make sure I don’t forget where I come from and what I’m trying to do. It’s good to work out at home and see everything you did when you were growing up.

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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