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CRAWFORD RELISHES THE CALM

The trades of Young, Dukes rid the Rays of distractions, the All-Star says.

As excited as most players have been over the Rays' offseason additions, All-Star leftfielder Carl Crawford reported to camp Tuesday and said the biggest plus was the subtraction of rookie outfielders Elijah Dukes and Delmon Young and the problems they caused.

"I just feel like it's going to be a little more peaceful this year," Crawford said. "I think it will be more at ease. Not so much crazy stuff. You just get the feeling it's about everybody just wanting to come out and play good baseball this year. I'm done, you know I'm not really a drama person, so I'm kind of glad that stuff just seems a little smoother right now."

The distractions got to the point last season, Crawford said, that "it was kind of hard to focus" on playing the game. "With so much stuff happening, it was kind of really tough," he said.

Crawford stopped short of saying the Rays had to trade Young (who went to Minnesota in a deal for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett) and Dukes (who went to Washington), but, in his first comments to Tampa Bay media since the deals, said they would have continued to have problems if they hadn't.

"They're both just young players who've got some growing up and maturing to do," Crawford, 26, said. "I just don't think the maturing part would have happened over here. It might happen somewhere else, but at the pace they were going I don't think they would have matured over here because they had too much free range to do whatever they wanted to. ... It was just one of them things where they just needed to grow up a little bit.

"They could do whatever they wanted to do and they did whatever they wanted to do. Being loud, talking too much, saying whatever they wanted to whoever they wanted to say it to. There weren't no rules for those guys. Now they're going to somewhere where they have rules, so I don't know what's going to happen then."

Crawford didn't fault manager Joe Maddon, who runs what is considered a relaxed clubhouse, but said it was more a matter specific to Young and Dukes not adhering to the standard baseball protocol for rookies (be seen and not heard), and the Rays not having veterans with presence to enforce it. He also attributed the issues to the way Young and Dukes were advanced through the organization despite causing repeated problems.

"They'd been getting in trouble and they got rewarded for it every year," he said. "So you couldn't expect them to come here and think that they were going to do something different and they were going to be good all of a sudden. That doesn't happen. It can only get worse. They've been doing that since Day 1. It didn't surprise me at all."

With the disruptive duo gone, and with additions including veterans Cliff Floyd and Troy Percival, Crawford said this is "probably the best team" the Rays have had, and said the front office "showed me enough" about its commitment to winning.

But while teammate Scott Kazmir said last week the Rays could make the playoffs, Crawford chose a more pragmatic goal: "We should be thinking like that (but) we know we're a long way from October, we've got to try to get to .500 one time at least first."

Crawford has done his part, intensifying his offseason workouts (adding a full gym to his Arizona house) and focusing on strengthening his legs to combat fatigue caused by the Tropicana Field turf. He also made big changes to his diet, eliminating the sluggishness that affected him at times last season, and showed up at a well-cut 220 pounds.

"We got rid of it (the distractions)," he said. "We're all feeling better. Everybody's feeling much better around here now, and it's just time to go play baseball."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

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