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Crawford: ‘Hopefully I won’t be considered the villain’

03.10.11 at 2:24 pm ET

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — It was a homecoming of sorts for Carl Crawford. Yet the circumstances were unique.

For the first time in his career, the 29-year-old was sitting in a dugout opposite from the one occupied by the Rays team with whom he spent his first nine big league seasons. Thanks to the seven-year, $142 million deal he signed with the Red Sox this winter, Crawford was left to renew acquaintances with his longtime Tampa Bay teammates, and to hope that the memories of his time with the Rays was remembered by all parties in a positive light.

“I’€™m just trying to let everything sink in a little bit,” said Crawford. “I had a great time in Tampa. Hopefully I won’€™t be considered the villain that some people make me out to be. I had a lot of fun times there, I love the fans here. Those are still my boys in the other clubhouse.”

Crawford’s concerns about being a villain in the eyes of Rays fans soon proved unfounded. When he was introduced prior to his first at-bat, Rays and Sox fans alike cheered him. He also received a warm round of applause when he made a diving catch while coming in on a shallow fly ball to end the fourth inning, and another when he legged out an infield single in the top of the sixth to close out his 1-for-3 day.

Still, while the fans were one thing, his former teammates were another. The idea that the Rays were the team in “the other clubhouse” was something to which Crawford was still trying to acclimate.

“Still trying to feel my way around and still trying to deal with the fact that I am a Red Sox and not a Ray anymore. After time, I’€™m pretty sure things will start to feel a little better,” said Crawford. “Playing against your former team against guys you played with for so long and now you’€™re on the other team, the one they used to hate so much, it’€™s going to feel a little different. But like I said, I’€™ve just got to get used to it.’€

Of course, the Rays and Red Sox feature a form of two ships passing in the night. With Crawford having left the budget-strained Rays for Boston, former Red Sox outfielders Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon are now with the Rays, who signed both on relatively low-cost one-year deals (Damon for a $5.25 million base, Ramirez for $2 million).

While Crawford was batting second and playing left for the Red Sox, Damon was batting second and serving as DH for the Rays. Ramirez, meanwhile, originally was slated to play left, but he was scratched after heavy rains cascaded on the Rays’ facility on Thursday morning. Even so, the convergence of Red Sox and Rays past and present was difficult to overlook.

“It’€™s funny the way that happens. Who would have thought that would happen? It’€™s just one of those things,” said Crawford. “Those guys fit in over there and hopefully I fit in over here and we just continue on our merry way.”

Damon could identify with some of the foreignness of Crawford’s experience. He had made the transition from small-market to the spotlight when he signed with the Sox as a free agent prior to the 2002 season, after having spent his career to that point with the small-market Royals and A’s. He had also moved between rivals, going from the Sox to the Yankees as a free agent following the 2005 season.

Asked how he expected Crawford to adapt to his new environment, Damon said that it was premature to predict — though he does believe that the Sox will achieve baseball’s ultimate goal during Crawford’s seven-year tenure.

“Only time will tell [how Crawford adapts]. We couldn’€™t really define my time in Boston until we won a championship. Same in New York. Championships are what people remember you for,” said Damon. “I was on a pretty good team, pretty stacked team. I’€™m sure there’€™s going to be at least one somewhere in his stay there.”

Read More: carl crawford, Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, tampa bay rays
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