USA TODAY US Edition
Duo hopes to satisfy fervent fans
FORT MYERS, Fla. — A few days into their first spring training with the Boston Red Sox, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford were on to the drill.
Knowing news media demands would be part of their day, they set aside time for such chores.
It might seem like a simple endeavor, but for players coming from small markets — as is the case with Boston’s two key offseason acquisitions — the voracious appetite for all things Red Sox from the fans and sports media typically represents the biggest adjustment when they join the club.
Former Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay, now entering his second season with the New York Mets, can vouch for that.
Bay arrived in Boston from the Pittsburgh Pirates in a July 2008 trade involving Manny Ramirez. Though he’s accessible and articulate, Bay was thrown off by the demands for his time.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s tough when you’re not used to doing it every day,” Bay said. “Sports in Boston, that’s life there. You walk down the street, and one out of every two people notices who you are, if not more.”
That prospect sounds a little daunting to Crawford, who signed a seven-year, $142 million contract after nine seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays. The All-Star left fielder tends to be a homebody whomakes his biggest statements on the field.
Crawford, who will probably bat third behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, brings a rare combination of power and speed that figures to thrill the Fenway Park faithful.
A career .296 hitter, Crawford has led the American League in steals and triples four times each and last season reached personal bests in home runs (19) and RBI (90). His 47 steals were 21 fewer than the Red Sox registered.
He is expected to follow in a line of highly productive Boston left fielders who have included Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice and more recently Ramirez and Bay.
“I understand the history, and I respect everything about it,” said Crawford, 29. “I’m just here trying to write my own little history. Those are big shoes to fill, but I don’t wake up saying I need to fill those shoes. I just go and be me.”
That might have been easier in the low-pressure environment of Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field, where the artificial turf was well-suited to Crawford’s speed game. He batted .304 with a .345 on-base percentage at home during his tenure with the Rays, compared with .275 and a .301 OBP in 76 games at Fenway Park.
A Gold Glover for the first time in 2010, Crawford will have to get used to the quirky bounces off the Green Monster, as well as the proximity of the fans in the intimate yard. Of course, now they will be cheering for him — as long as he performs well.
“The main thing is I’ve had a chance to play up there a lot throughout my career, so I know it a little bit,” Crawford said. “It’s definitely going to be a little different, but we all have to make adjustments, and that’s all I’m going to do.”
He’s happy to arrive at the same time as Gonzalez, acquired in a December trade with the SanDiegoPadres, for whom he averaged 34 homers and 104 RBI over the last four seasons despite playing half his games at pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
A left-handed-hitting first baseman with a knack for driving the ball to the opposite field, Gonzalez is widely expected to thrive at Fenway, where he has never played. He also should benefit from batting in the middle of a lineup that scored the second-most runs in the majors last season despite numerous injuries.
“Because we have so many good hitters here, we’re going to produce more,” said Gonzalez, who should be ready for the season after offseason shoulder surgery. “And when the team hits better, you also hit better as an individual.”
As a bilingual star playing in his native city, Gonzalez grew used to frequent news media requests in San Diego.
So what’s the biggest difference for him?
“The expectations of this team, wherewe have to win the World Series,” he said. “But that’s something I already knew.” USA TODAY has unveiled its power rankings by highlighting each team. The Red Sox, at No. 1, conclude the series. View other team previews and full rankings at baseball.usatoday.com.