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On opening day in Section 138, the fans miss Officer David Crawford

ST. PETERSBURG — The season ticket holders who have seats in Section 138 think of themselves as a little family.

And for opening day Friday, all the cast of characters were there — except for one.

There was the Brandon woman who acts as the group's mother hen. There was the kid who is always pounding cowbells or blowing horns. There were the two gregarious old-timers who can't stop talking during games.

The one person missing from the crew: Officer David Crawford.

For years, Crawford worked security at Rays games, usually at the right field foul pole near Section 138.

There, Crawford was more than a cop, more than just the guy who kept an eye out for rowdy fans.

He was part of the family.

"The big brother," said Tracey Canton, a 38-year-old phlebotomist from Sarasota who comes to the games with her father. "The one that's always got your back. The one that's always there."

Crawford was killed Feb. 21 while investigating a prowler in a downtown neighborhood not far from Tropicana Field. Authorities say he was shot multiple times by a teen who is now in jail awaiting trial.

On Friday, many in Section 138 wore T-shirts in Crawford's honor. Their tears started flowing more than an hour before the first pitch was thrown. Everyone hugged.

Crawford was a husband and father. He lived in Citrus County, where there was room for his beloved horses.

He had been on the force for 25 years, most of those on the midnight shift. He had a reputation as a tough beat cop. But he had a soft spot and colleagues admired the way he handled difficult domestic violence calls.

And he loved baseball. Colleagues said he would trade assignments to get his usual spot by Section 138.

It was there that he took 15-year-old Joel Powell — the kid with the cowbells and horns — under his wing. Crawford assured Powell's parents he would watch out for the high school freshman when they couldn't make it to games.

The two had a special relationship. Powell always thought he wanted to go into law enforcement, too. He isn't so sure now.

Crawford also had a special bond with John Whiteside — the veteran officer often swiped his Tootsie Rolls.

"He had a sweet tooth, no doubt about it," Whiteside said. "He was just one of us. We all looked forward to seeing him."

"He refused to eat doughnuts though," said Lucie Paulucci, 55, of Brandon — the group's mother hen. "Dave was different than the others who do security here. Dave interacted with us. He was personable. You could see the personal side of him instead of the cop side."

Paulucci and others in Section 138 said they felt like they had a special piece of Crawford.

They knew his wife. They had his cell phone number.

"He felt like he was just a part of us and we loved him," said Barbara Powell, a Pinellas County schools secretary.

Minutes before the game started Friday, the sold-out crowd stood and gave a moment of silence for Crawford, as well as for St. Petersburg officers Jeffrey Yaslowitz and Thomas Baitinger, who also were shot to death in the line of duty this year.

As local musician BK Jackson played the national anthem on his saxophone, employees of the St. Petersburg Police Department unfurled a giant American flag.

Back in Section 138, Mikey DeMatteo, 64, clutched a small picture of Crawford between his fingers.

Later, DeMatteo taped it to the foul pole.

"It ain't going to be the same without Dave," DeMatteo said. "It ain't going to be the same."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

On opening day in Section 138, the fans miss Officer David Crawford 04/01/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 2, 2011 12:13am]
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