Monday, December 11, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Carl Crawford does good deed at Little League World Series

We constantly get letters and phone calls here at the Tampa Bay Times, asking, "Why don't you guys print some good news once in a while?''

It's true that, quite often, we're telling stories — very important stories — about wars and political corruption and shady citizens. Even in the Sports pages, it's hard to go a day or two without reading about some sports star punching his girlfriend or cheating on his exams or walking out of Publix without paying for crab legs.

Believe me, there are plenty of feel-good stories in the newspaper, too, and here is one that will remind you that not all athletes are self-centered jerks who care only about driving fast and picking up swimsuit models.

This one is about Carl Crawford, the former Rays outfielder, who is doing something nice for a bunch of little boys and their families. Along the way, he got an assist from others, including Crawford's former Tampa Bay teammate B.J. Upton.

It all started last year when Crawford watched a Little League team from Chicago on television called Jackie Robinson West. It caught his attention because it was an all-black team. That's something you tend to notice in a day when fewer and fewer African-Americans are playing baseball.

"He saw them and felt a real connection to them,'' said Crawford's agent, Brian Peters. "It reminded Carl of when he was a kid growing up (in Houston). It reminded him of growing up playing with other kids like him in his neighborhood.''

Crawford didn't know anyone associated with the Jackie Robinson team. He only watched on TV as it fell just short of reaching the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Then came this season.

Once again, Jackie Robinson West went on a tear, and this time it made it to the Little League World Series.

And once again, Crawford felt that connection. This time, he decided to get involved. He called his brother, Cory.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Carl asked Cory, "Can you reach out to this team and see what they've got going on, if they need help or whatever?''

Turns out, the team did need help.

For anyone who has ever had a child in youth sports, you know how expensive it can be. Aside from equipment and league fees and so forth, there is extensive travel that really good teams must endure to keep competing.

You have local tournaments, state tournaments, region tournaments, national tournaments. Aside from using up every single minute of vacation time and often having to take time off without pay, parents suddenly have to find a way to go on an expensive road trip that could last several weeks.

That means getting to the next tournament, sometimes by plane. That means staying in motels and hotels and eating in restaurants. The bills pile up so high that family members often find it difficult — if not impossible — to attend all the games.

So when Crawford asked how the team was doing, he was told about the financial strain on the families.

"Many of them were not going to be able to afford to go to Williamsport,'' Peters said. "They were going to have to stay home, and I know that if I were playing in the Little League World Series, I would want my family there with me.''

So Crawford made it possible. He told the Jackie Robinson West team that he would pick up all the expenses for the families, from airfare to hotel rooms to food. Cory Crawford even travelled to Williamsport to not only watch the team play but to make sure the bills were taken care of.

The final tally hasn't come in yet, but you would have to assume that is going to be tens of thousands of dollars.

"The bills don't matter,'' Crawford told the L.A. Times. "As long as it gives them a chance to play.''

Meantime, Rockies pitcher LaTroy Hawkins, a product of Little League, put out the word about the Chicago team to several other big-leaguers, including the Upton brothers — B.J. and Justin — former Rays pitcher Wesley Wright and Torii Hunter of the Tigers. They and a few others chipped in about $20,000.

"It's all about the life experience of going to the Little League World Series and having the support of your family," said Hunter at the Trop on Tuesday. "Because if I was a kid, I'd want my mom and dad to come. We wanted to make sure everyone had someone there to support them."

Now, you might say, this is just a drop in the bucket for players making millions. Crawford is making more than $20 million this season and has made more than $100 million in his career. Still, no one asked him to do this. He came forward on his own, and no one would have noticed if he had not reached out.

Crawford wants to help these particular players, but he also believes this team can be an inspiration to future black players. In recent years, the participation of African-Americans has dwindled, and those numbers are starting to affect Major League Baseball.

On opening day this season, only 8.1 percent of MLB rosters were filled with African-Americans. That's quite the dip from the nearly 20 percent just 30 years ago.

Crawford has Skyped with the team and plans on meeting with it next month when his Dodgers travel to Chicago to play the Cubs.

"He's really looking forward to meeting them,'' Peters said. "He watches all their games, but he hasn't had a chance to meet them yet. He can't wait.''

At that time, the Jackie Robinson West kids can thank Crawford. They can show their appreciation for his kind gesture. They can tell him that he's a good guy.

Then again, we already knew that.

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