FORT MYERS, Fla. — Worried that Carl Crawford might be ill-equipped to handle the spotlight in Boston after spending his career with the small-market Tampa Bay Rays?
Not a problem. The new left fielder sat before a few dozen reporters, photographers and television cameras for 17 minutes today and was totally at ease, cracking jokes and seemingly enjoying himself.
Crawford was drafted by the Rays in 1999 and spent his entire career there before signing with the Sox in December. Like any of us who take a few job or switch to a new school, that takes some getting used to.
“Yesterday it was new for me. i thought I was ready for it, but I still really wasn’t. It was kind of like I was day-dreaming a little bit,” he said. “Today I felt more comfortable. I figure as each every day goes on, I’m going to get more comfortable.”
The hard part is meeting so many new people.
“It’s a new group of people. I’ve seen those guys play on the other side a lot. But it’s different when you’re actually in the clubhouse with them. I’ve got to meet new staff, new workers, everybody. That’s the main thing,” he said.
Crawford was happy to see Tom Goodwin, one of the Red Sox minor league coaches. He had worked with him before. Crawford said Goodwin once advised him to run a lot in the offseason to maintain his speed.
Crawford was asked by a Tampa-area reporter whether he was worried about playing in front of so many fans in Boston.
“If not, I better get ready pretty soon,” he said. “I’m not worried about fans being at the game. That’s one of my least worries. I’m excited to have a chance to play in front of all those people, whether I do good or bad. The opportunity to do that is exciting enough.”
Crawford has 62 of his 409 stolen bases against the Red Sox, 15 percent of his total. He has a streak of 35 consecutive successful steals against the Sox dating back to Sept. 21, 2005 when Tim Wakefield caught him leaning. It’s the longest streak since Vince Coleman swiped 57 in a row against the Mets from 1985-90.
The irrepressible Jonny Miller of WBZ radio asked Crawford if he was worried his stolen bases would go down because he wouldn’t be playing against the Sox any more.
After a hearty laugh, Crawford said he hoped not and that he could try and get his usual number.
“That’s my goal, to come out and try and put pressure on the other team, steal as many bags and try and get in scoring position,” he said.
Crawford said he was willing to hit wherever Terry Francona wanted. But he noted that one of his former managers, Lou Piniella, told him he wasn’t a great fit at leadoff.
“Lou said, ‘That’s not what you are.’ I put a lot of faith in his judgment. I thought that he knew what he was talking about,” Crawford said.
Later on, Francona was asked how he thought Crawford would react to being asked to hit leadoff. Francona said that wasn’t something he planned to do.
Crawford said he is looking forward to working with Jacoby Ellsbury.
“He’s a guy that I think of as kind of like myself. If I can, I would like to help him and try and encourage him and get him as many stolen bases as possible. We can run together,” he said. “I want him to do as good as he can. The better he does, it helps everybody out. There’s no rivalry there. I want to see Ellsbury do as well as his talents will let him.”
Globe colleague Dan Shaughnessy then asked a good question. So wins a race?
“It would be a good race,” Crawford said. “I can’t really just say who would win. But I can’t go against myself.”
Crawford later said he understood the legacy of playing left field in Boston and had a chance to speak to Hall of Famer Jim Rice about it after he arrived in camp. “Mr. Rice was telling me a few things,” he said. “I know it’s going to be hard to fill those shoes but I’m going to my my best.”
(“Mr. Rice.” Nice touch.)
In all, it was a good first impression for Crawford. Having gotten to know him a little and talking to people in his life, he’s an earnest guy who is quiet until he gets comfortable with you. In Boston, where he’ll be surrounded by other stars, Crawford should fit in just fine.