Crawford: Hamilton's success no surprise

BOSTON -- While Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford continues to rehab a strained left elbow in hopes of returning to the lineup at some point this season, he took some time on Monday to praise the success of Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton.

At one time, Crawford, Hamilton and Rocco Baldelli were all top outfield prospects in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Hamilton was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft, while Crawford was selected in the second round that year. Baldelli was a first-round pick (6th overall) in 2000.

The trio was set to be the future outfield in Tampa, with Crawford in left, Baldelli in center and Hamilton in right.

Crawford and Hamilton quickly became teammates at Single-A Princeton in 1999. Baldelli and Hamilton were teammates at Single-A Charleston in 2001. Crawford and Baldelli finally connected as teammates at Triple-A Durham in 2002. The three were never teammates and ultimately all went their separate ways.

Hamilton was dealing with drug issues and was out of baseball from 2003 to 2005 due to suspensions. His return to baseball prominence has been a remarkable story, but it doesn’t surprise Crawford one bit.

Entering Monday night, Hamilton was hitting .402 with 18 homers and 44 RBIs in 32 games for Texas this season.

“Back in the day when we used to pull up to the minor-league complex, you had to make a critical decision on where you wanted to park your car that day,” recalled Crawford. “You could take that chance on being close to the building, or you could park in the back because, literally, when he took batting practice his goal was to try to break somebody’s windshield. I saw it a few times where that wasn’t hard for Josh to do and everybody knows that.”

Did he ever break Crawford's windshield?

“Never broke mine, I was smart,” Crawford said with a laugh.

Hamilton put on an impressive hitting display during the 2008 All-Star Home Run Derby, when he set a new record with 28 homers in the first round.

“Everyone was surprised during the Home Run Derby when he hit 28 in the first round, but no one in the Rays organization was surprised by that because we saw him do that every day,” Crawford said. “The world was surprised by it, but anybody who was with the Devil Rays at that time, we weren’t surprised at all.”

Since signing a seven-year deal worth $142 million with the Red Sox, Crawford has been disappointed with his inability to produce the way he had with the Rays. Still, his struggles can’t compare to what Hamilton went through earlier in his career, and Crawford is thrilled about his former teammate’s resurgence.

“Definitely seeing guys he played with playing in the big leagues, and definitely hearing all that stuff that was said about him and knowing at the end of the day he still had that talent, that probably all made him want to do better,” Crawford said. “I know his religious beliefs changed and he got real serious under God and got a new wife and kids and that probably made him change a little bit. All that stuff coming together made him probably who he is today.

“He was really such a good kid. He was really green and really didn’t know nothing about the outside world at the time, and he really was like the kid next door, the All-American kid, and to see him go from being so honest to what he went through, you never want to see something like that. It’s nice to see he bounced back and became the player that we all expected him to be from the beginning.”

Crawford admitted that from time to time he’ll think about what could have been had he played with Baldelli and Hamilton in Tampa. Crawford would have hit in the leadoff spot, Baldelli would have been second and Hamilton would have been third. Then eventually the Rays would have added B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria to the mix.

“We always talk about that stuff,” Crawford said. “It should have been me, Rocco and Josh Hamilton in the outfield because that’s the way [Tampa] had it planned. Lord knows what kind of offense we would have had if it all worked out. That would have been one of those unstoppable honors.”