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Martin Fennelly Columns

Crawford deserves cheers on return to Trop

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 04:58 PM
TAMPA -

To boo, or not to boo, that is the question.

Actually, it's not much of a question. Showing up to boo Carl Crawford tonight will necessitate Tampa Bay Rays fans having to show up in the first place, always a tricky proposition, even with the first-place Red Sox in town. Then there are the large numbers of annoying Boston fans, another constant reality, sometimes to the point of slight majority.

There will be a fair number of Rays No. 13 Crawford jerseys in left field. There will be reaction when his name is announced as he digs in at the batter's box during the first inning, or maybe the second inning, since Crawford currently bats sixth for Boston, or maybe it will be in the first, since the Sox come in crushing baseballs. They're hot, and so is Crawford, finally.

If I was a Rays fan, the first time around I'd cheer.

Crawford isn't expecting boos.

"It wasn't a decision to not stay in Tampa. There wasn't an option to stay there, so it wasn't hard at all," he told reporters Sunday in Toronto. "There's no way you can stay with a team if a contract is not even offered to you. Hopefully (the fans) will be smart enough to realize that."

There are smarter ways to come back home than question the intelligence of fans who'd dare boo you, but Crawford makes an incredibly valid point:

He was never staying. The Rays were never keeping him.

It was beyond forgone. It was a no-fault deal.

The Rays couldn't use 40 percent of their payroll to pay Crawford, a concept that could arise again with Evan Longoria and David Price. And Crawford wanted more money and an annual shot at a ring, minus the LeBron 360 Theater.

You cheer him that first time up because in so many ways, Crawford gave the Rays everything they wanted for a dozen seasons. He was a high draft pick who kept on coming, who worked hard, who never caused much trouble (I'm not saying he was saint) and was a large reason why the Rays won two AL East titles and a pennant.

And Crawford hasn't said many bad things since leaving Tampa, nothing malicious. That never was and never will be his deal.

There really should be no hard feelings, folks.

Save your boos for Kelly Shoppach, or head-in-the-sand St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster.

Three cheers for C.C. -- OK, maybe two.

"He deserves that," Rays reliever J.P. Howell said last week. "He's one of the greatest players, if not the greatest player, to come through Tampa … . He set the tone for what we are today, too. It's still carrying on.

"I get it if you're a little jealous or nervous. He's against us now. But the first time you got to cheer for him. But then go ahead and boo him, crush him after that. But he deserves a nice ovation the first time up. I know I'll be clapping myself a little, and after that, it's on."

More than a few of us wondered if Boston's fishbowl was the right fit for Crawford after he signed there for seven years and $142 million. Maybe we still do. Some thought Anaheim might be more his speed and his weather.

But so what if it was? How can any Rays fan, or anyone in the Rays organization, say anything about Crawford going for more money in Boston instead of taking less to go to Anaheim when no one lifted a finger to keep him here ? I'm not saying that was the wrong call, but you give up all second-guessing rights as well as the right to smirk.

It's funny. Carl Crawford hit just .154 in April and heard all about it. Rays outfielder Sam Fuld hit .157 in May and was honored with a Sam Fuld Superhero Cape giveaway night.

Crawford has been a .300 hitter since the start of May with 25 RBIs. His on base percentage is still lousy and he has stolen only eight bases, but he is showing signs of becoming the old Crawford, just as the Red Sox are showing signs that they're about to blow the doors off the AL East.

There are reports that Crawford hasn't exactly embraced all things Boston, especially all the attention all the time. Well, he deserves attention tonight, his first time up: some applause.

And after that, it's on.

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