Any day now, really, Carl Crawford, to date the greatest player in Rays history, might be ready to rejoin the Boston Red Sox, though not in time to haunt his old team this weekend at the Tropicana Field. Crawford seems the haunted one.
The guy has become a ghost of his former self, dropped off the edge of the baseball world since he left here for Boston for seven years and $142 million. Everything that could have gone wrong has formed a car pool and picked up everything else that couldn't possibly have gone wrong.
Rays center fielder B.J. Upton sat at his locker before Saturday's game. Upton and his team have their own problems, though he homered and the Rays beat the Red Sox on Saturday. Before all that, Upton he couldn't but help think of the man he played alongside for years.
"I know he's on the Red Sox," Upton said. "But it goes a lot farther with us. I'm just happy to see him back out there, or about to be back. It's been a long road for him. He's been through a lot."
We all understand that no one cries for a guy at the bottom of a mine shaft when his bed down there is $19.5 million high. That's Crawford's salary for this, his second season with the Red Sox _ and he hasn't played since the final game of last season.
Crawford's part on Boston's end of 162 was beyond symbolic. He was lousy in his first Red Sox season, a shell of his Rays self. That last night, 162, he made an sliding attempt at a sinking liner in Baltimore, a tough play he always made look easy. He didn't come up with it. His throw home had no chance. The Orioles won. The Red Sox lost.
A handful of seconds later, Crawford's old team went wild card with Evan Longoria's home run over the Tropicana Field fence that was lowered in the name of Crawford outfield grabs, of course, completing arguably the worst fold in Red Sox history, which is a mouthful.
The thing is, it has never truly faded back in for Crawford or the Sox.
The team imploded. Manager Terry Francona was squeezed out. It was learned that some Sox players were holding Oktoberfest in the clubhouse during games. But in many ways, Crawford with his deal became the poster child.
It hasn't gotten better. Crawford, trying to come back from a wrist injury, hurt himself two other times, an elbow that will migh eventually need Tommy John surgery, then a groin injury. One long rehab soap opera. Meanwhile, Boston is 44-44. The pot is boiling. New Boston manager Bobby Valentine might be old Boston manager Bobby Valentine before it's through.
Welcome back, Carl!
B.J. Upton remembers that after celebrating 162, he watched the replay of the end of Boston's 162. It made him cringe.
It had to be hit to C.C.?
"I know that wasn't an easy play," Upton said. "We'd seen (Carl) make it so many times. As soon as I saw it, I knew that a lot of fingers up there were going to point at him. It wouldn't be like that here. There, there's so much history, fans hanging on everything."
Upton has talked to Crawford a lot. He has followed his bumpy road back. Like when Boston owner John Henry said on the radio this spring that he initially opposed signing Crawford. Henry apologized to Crawford -- apology accepted. And there was the fan who allegedly hurled a racial slur at Crawford during one of his recent rehab games -- and the guy is a police officer.
Such have been Carl Crawford's life and times since the Rays didn't come close to even trying to re-sign him. I remember shaking his hand and wishing him well on the way out the door. Ah, The Fennelly Curse.
Crawford wants to get back as quickly as possible.
"Probably because I feel the pressure of wanting me to be out there," Crawford said the other day. "I want to be out there, fans want me to be out there, management, everybody, kind of a mixture of all that."
Pressure already? It sounds ominous.
Some think Crawford should just shut it down, get the elbow surgery and move on to 2013. Saturday, Carl Crawford got two more hits and scored a run for Triple-A Pawtucket.
"He's a headstrong man," B.J. Upton said. "All this stuff, it's going to be fuel for the fire, kind of motivate him.
"He's going to face it. He's not going to dodge it. Just talking to him lately, he says it's kind of the way he was brought up. He's not going to shy away from anything. Really, most guys would have lost it by now, gone off, just shut it down. He's going to do everything he can do to help that team win. I just hope it's not get against us. You've got to have pride, and Carl has a lot of it, a lot."