LOS ANGELES — Sometimes all it takes is looking at the situation from the outside to appreciate the theme road trips and the motivational sayings on the clubhouse walls and the Rays way of doing things, which is unorthodox by baseball's time-honored standards.
Just ask Carl Crawford, who didn't realize how good he had it in Tampa Bay until he took his game to Boston after the 2010 season.
Crawford discussed that with B.J. Upton, another former Ray, when the two played against each other earlier this season.
“Oh yeah, we made no secrets about it,” Crawford said. “I tell guys all the time there's not a place in baseball that's like that, and we definitely had to figure that out the hard way. They have a lot of fun and that's part of why they win a lot. I just don't think there's no other place like that in baseball.
“It's pretty close here, we have a lot of fun here, too. The looseness over there, I don't think you'll find that anywhere else in baseball.”
“Here” is Los Angeles, where Crawford has returned to form as the left fielder and leadoff hitter for the first-place Dodgers, who host the Rays this weekend for a three-game series at Dodger Stadium.
Crawford is loving life now that he's healthy and playing for a winner.
“Well, I can't really put it into words how I'm feeling right now,” Crawford said Wednesday during a conference call. “I'm in a new place and things are a lot better for me now. I'm a little more at ease than I was the last few years.”
Crawford left the Rays for the big money in Boston but found a setting nearly the exact opposite from what he enjoyed during his nine years in Tampa Bay. There was the September collapse in 2011 that ended when Crawford dropped a line drive in left field during the final night of the regular season, Terry Francona's departure and the arrival of Bobby Valentine, and injuries that cut into his production and cut short his 2012 season.
“(Boston) I felt was a little bit different. It was an environment I wasn't really used to,” he said. “I didn't take too well to everything out there. Out here it's a little more relaxed. It's a lot similar to Tampa and I can focus on playing baseball. That's one of the things I wanted to get back to, focusing on playing baseball again.”
Crawford entered Thursday night's game in St. Louis batting .293 with a .343 on-base percentage this season. He's battled hamstring problems, which forced him to the disabled list in June. But since returning July 5, he's recorded five games of at least three hits, including a four-hit night in Wednesday's win in St. Louis.
Looks like Crawford is back to being Crawford.
“He never left,” former Rays and current Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell said. “He's went through what I've been through with those injuries, and the change of place can be tough. It throws you off. There's distractions when that happens and you have to handle it and deal with it.”
Rays manager Joe Maddon was glad to hear Crawford's comments regarding the Rays, since it is Maddon who created that atmosphere.
“That's great,” Maddon said. “I appreciate that.”
As for Crawford finding his game at the fabled ballpark in Chavez Ravine, Maddon said that, too, is great.
“Very happy for Carl to be doing well. I really enjoyed our time together,” Maddon said. “Tell me who worked harder and really, on a nightly basis, put out a better effort than he did. Carl really showed up professionally on a nightly basis and on top of that performed so well. ... I was sad to see him leave. That's one of those guys you wish we could have held on to financially for a longer period of time.”
Maddon feels the same way toward Howell, who was one of the stalwarts of the bullpen during the American League championship season in 2008 and one of the more colorful players to ever wear a Tampa Bay jersey.
“Miss them both,” Maddon said. “I'm happy for their success and glad they're doing well. I really mean that. I always enjoy when guys leave us and do well.”