FORT MYERS — Eventually, his only collisions will come from learning how to play the Green Monster in leftfield at Fenway Park. But Carl Crawford began his Red Sox career by trying to mend fences with Tampa Bay.
Crawford apologized Friday for failing to mention his former team during his introductory news conference in Boston in December.
Crawford, who that day described his decision to sign with the Red Sox by saying "because my heart is here in Boston," said he struggled to speak and hopes the omission isn't a sore spot with the Rays players, fans or front office.
"My throat was hurting so bad, and I tried to limit myself to as few words as possible," Crawford said after reporting to spring training. "If I made a few people upset, I'm sorry about it.
"Everybody knew I loved Tampa when I was there. I had a good time there. It's just at the press conference, I was overwhelmed by cameras, and I'd never been in this kind of situation before. And it just kind of slipped my mind."
After spending his first nine seasons in Tampa Bay, Crawford popped out of the Red Sox clubhouse and was greeted by a bank of TV cameras and about 25 reporters.
He said he managed to avoid instinctively steering toward the Rays' spring home about an hour north in Port Charlotte.
"I knew everything, the little ins and outs," Crawford, 29, said. "So now I've got to figure everything out again."
His parting with the Rays was inevitable because Crawford knew they could never get within the same galaxy as the seven-year, $142 million offer of the Red Sox.
"I understand the economics weren't there for those guys," Crawford said. "It was a mutual agreement, so there weren't any hard feelings. It was just something that had to happen."
Crawford, who signed the second-largest contract in Red Sox history, said he is willing to do whatever the team needs. That includes play centerfield and lead off — roles he was reluctant to fill with the Rays.
"I think it was when (former Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella) came to me and said, 'This is just not who you are,' " Crawford said of why he wasn't interested in leading off for the Rays. "I put a lot of faith in his judgment."
Red Sox manager Terry Francona has not decided where Crawford will hit but he will play leftfield, where "the ball never hit the ground," when he played there for the Rays.
"All the things that used to aggravate us when he was in a Tampa uniform will excite us now that he's in a Red Sox uniform," Francona said. "When he walked in, I said, 'It's amazing I can hate somebody so much in a different (uniform) and fall in love with them when they're in your uniform.' "
Crawford's 191 hits and 65 stolen bases in 151 games, including the postseason, against the Red Sox are his most against any team. No wonder Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek was one of the first to embrace Crawford in the clubhouse.
"I said, 'Carl, I'm so glad to have you,' " Varitek said.
Crawford said he's looking forward to playing his former team this season. (The first time is April 11, the first time in St. Petersburg is June 14.)
"We're going to have a lot of fun," he said. "It's going to be highly competitive because I know they're going to try to beat us and get me out. I'm going to be trying to do the same."
After about 20 minutes, Crawford inched away from the cameras and microphones. Like all good base stealers, he didn't glance back … and was gone.
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]