Carl Crawford has been a Ray longer than anyone. He has done more as a Ray than anyone, making two All-Star appearances. And, given all the abuse he has endured as a Ray, he might want them to win more than anybody.
On the eve of a new season, we wanted to see how the Rays universe looked through his eyes, and what was in his head.
No surprise, the 26-year-old leftfielder is excited, confident and has high expectations: "We shouldn't have a losing record this year. We shouldn't finish last. I just believe in this team that much."
Here are excerpts:
Do you get a sense things are finally changing for the better?
From this spring it feels like that. It definitely feels different than any other spring. I feel like we're making progress personnel-wise and any other kind of way you think, we've upgraded. It's been the best year so far.
But you've been around enough to know you can't be sure yet.
I believe. I want to be optimistic. But until I see it with my own eyes, that's when you really know.
Can you put into words what it's been like for you — losing for 5½ years since you were called up (with a 353-523, .403 record)?
It's just not a good thing as far as respect level around the league, from players that have been on winning teams. It's one thing to want to get here and play and make all the money and all that kind of stuff, but after a while you want that other kind of respect that other players get from being on winning teams. It's just a bad feeling when you're not respected by people.
So what's it like when you run into people from other teams?
You get joked on a lot. I've had my share of jokes. That's why if we ever start winning and beating teams real bad and all the time, I won't feel sorry for nobody. I won't feel sorry for one player on the other side.
You ever wonder what you did to deserve this?
I was always taught growing up you always go through bad times early and once you get past it it's smooth sailing from there. So I just figure those are my rough times and hopefully it's behind us and everything can be just smooth sailing from now on. But it's been a long one.
Do you sense winning is close?
I feel that. I really feel like that. Everyone knows I try to be real about everything, and this is just the best feeling I've had so far from any spring, even before all the crazy stuff started happening. So this is definitely the best spring I've ever been associated with.
If you start winning, does that make up for all the losing, make it sweeter?
Yeah, if we win you forget about all that. I know I will. Why would you want to keep harping on the old stuff if we start winning? If we have a winning season, basically the last 5-6 years I've been here will be erased in my mind.
What will make this season a success in your mind?
Realistically, I would just really like to have a winning record. One time. Not finish last. Take little steps. We know we've got to take little steps. I think this team is good enough. We shouldn't have a losing record this year. We shouldn't finish last. I just believe in this team that much.
Had you not signed your long-term deal, you would have been a free agent after this season — do you think much about that?
You think about it, but it's not too much of a big deal. I'm only two more years away, so that's pretty much the same. It's not like I'm going to be broke or nothing (making $5.25-million this season, with options of $8.25-million in 2009 and $10-million in 2010). I just get to play baseball for two more years with these guys and whatever happens, happens. I don't really think about it. I know my time will come one day. I don't regret it at all because I wasn't in a situation to be turning down $32-million.
Do you think the players have a role in getting the new stadium?
I don't know, they haven't talked to us about nothing. I don't think so. Maybe go out and play and try to perform well, and get everybody excited about coming out. Helping the team, that's how we're going to help.
We keep hearing how the clubhouse is better this year — how so?
Because I think everyone in the clubhouse has the same goals this year. Everyone understands the situation. We know we have good players and we've been a losing franchise and we all came in with a good attitude — let's change what's been wrong in the past. With everyone coming in with that kind of attitude just made things better and things work more smoothly.
Did you have any input into the decisions to trade Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes?
They didn't ask me nothing. I didn't really want to talk about and I still don't want to talk about it. I saw the Delmon trade on SportsCenter one day when I way laying in bed.
You've never been a vocal leader in the clubhouse, but are you comfortable as one of the faces of the team?
That's cool with me, I've got no problem with that. It's just when it comes to speaking and that kind of stuff, we have guys who do that. I've always led by example on the field. That's how I do it. If I really want to say something then I'll say it. I'm not afraid to say out. It's just when I say it, I want it to be understood. People really listening are not just thinking, 'He's just talking again.' That's why I don't say stuff all the time. When you're saying stuff all the time guys are just blowing you off. Every now and then I say something and you say it with passion and you mean it, guys listen.
Every spring you always say you don't know how good you can be. So, for the record, how good can you be?
I don't know. My home runs took a dive last year (from 18 to 11), so that was kind of disappointing. When the season starts, how things are going, I play according to how we're playing it seems like. This past year I was more streaky than in the past when I was more consistent. This year I'm going to try to be consistent the whole year and see where that takes me."
Are you okay with hitting second?
I'm comfy, it's really good between Aki (Iwamura) and (Carlos) Pena. That's where Lou (Piniella) put me a long time ago and there's where I've been having success. I know some people don't think I should be there because of my speed and stuff but that's where the team functions better when I'm in the No. 2 hole. That's all it is.
Eventually do you want to be a No. 3 hitter?
I don't know. Most teams — I don't know if I should be saying this because I don't want them to do it — but most teams would probably bat me in the leadoff spot. If I felt like I was a good leadoff hitter I'd be there. It's simple to say speed equals leadoff, but that doesn't always mean success just because a guy has speed and stuff like that.
What do you think when you look at B.J. Upton?
You think superstar all around the board. He's one of those guys, one of those special guys.
So you enjoy playing with him?
That's what makes me come to the field ready to play every day because I know I'm going to be playing with B.J. and that's just so fun. It makes during the game much more fun. When he was out for that month last year, that was just terrible. I don't want to put too much pressure on him because he's young, but he's just got it, you know? Some people got it, some people don't. He's one of those who got it.
Do you feel for Rocco Baldelli, whose return is uncertain due to a rare medical condition?
I feel sorry for Rocco. Seeing that, I felt real bad about that. We know that day is coming for all of us one day and for us to see it that early, it was kind of like a reality check. I was real sad for him because I know he's a good player and just couldn't get on the field. He could have done a lot of good things on the field. When he did play he did a lot of good stuff. He was a big player for us. To lose him is just kind of like a major letdown for the players and the fans and everybody that watched him play.
You keep it pretty low-key about your personal life, outside of occasionally hosting your young son, who lives with his mom in Arizona.
That's just the way I was brought up — don't put all your business out like that. I'm a baseball player, I'll talk all day about any kinds of sports, baseball, whatever you want to know. But when it comes to my family I feel like that ain't none of your business unless I want you to know.
Are you planning on having a big year?
I don't know. I feel good about this year. I think you are going to have a bunch of big years on this team, a bunch of guys have big years. So I don't know if my year would compare to what other guys on the team might have. Maybe it will be big to me but to everybody else, I don't know. We've got a lot of good people. Aki will help me get better, I'll help Pena, we've got a good supporting cast this year. I can remember when we had (Julio) Lugo and then (Aubrey) Huff, all those guys (in 2006), I was on my way to my best first half ever. Now we're back to that, and that's why I'm excited. I was about to have a big monster year, then they dismantled the team and they stopped pitching to me, and I had a bad second half. Now if we can keep everyone healthy, I would really like to continue that and get back to that.