Carl Crawford eases in with Red Sox

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In preparation for his Grapefruit League debut with the Boston Red Sox, outfielder Carl Crawford was buttoning his home white No. 13 jersey Monday afternoon in the clubhouse of City of Palms Park.

As Crawford was just about finished putting on a game uniform other than that of the Tampa Bay Rays for the first time, Red Sox manager Terry Francona walked by.

"I [expletive] hated you. Now I love you," Francona told him.

"I feel the same way too," Crawford responded. "It's good we're on the same team. We're all together now."

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein made it a priority during the offseason to sign the free-agent outfielder, and after Crawford signed a seven-year deal worth $142 million to play in Boston, it meant the 29-year-old would be playing for someone other than the team that drafted him in the second round of the 1999 draft.

Crawford spent 12 years in the Rays organization, nine in the big leagues, where he became a five-tool player and one of the best in the game.

His transition to another club has gone well for both Crawford and the Red Sox.

"It's been good," Crawford said. "It hasn't been really hard. The guys have made it easy for me. It hasn't been bad."

Crawford is known for his work ethic and the Red Sox quickly witnessed that once he arrived at camp.

"He's been a model. He's here early and he works hard," Francona said. "He's upbeat and he's a nice kid."

Asked if the transition has been smooth, Francona said, "For us [it has] and I hope it has been for him, too. I'm sure it's a little different. [Tampa] was his first team, that's kind of like family. He came up with those guys, so I'm sure it's a little different."

It was a bit strange to see Crawford in a Red Sox uniform in his spring debut; he went 0-for-3 with a strikeout in Monday's 7-6 win over the Minnesota Twins. The end result in the second game of spring training means absolutely nothing. The fact Crawford is wearing a Red Sox uniform is a big deal for the 2011 season and beyond.

"There's not much to not get excited about," Francona said.

Prior to his spring debut, Crawford was warming up in left field, stretching and running sprints. The fans on the third-base side gave him a nice ovation.

"I was trying to take it all in," Crawford said. "You're thinking about that I'm actually in a Red Sox uniform and thinking about all that stuff. I was trying to take it all in and focus on the game at the same time.

"It felt good to just put on the uniform and finally get out there on the field and play a game. I was a little nervous at first, but I was happy to get it out of the way."

Since the Red Sox added Crawford to the mix, a hot topic this winter has been the Boston lineup. Crawford has spent the majority of his career in the No. 2 spot and that's where he's performed his best. But that's also the most comfortable and productive spot for Dustin Pedroia.

Francona featured what could be the top three spots in the order Monday with Jacoby Ellsbury leading off, followed by Pedroia and Crawford. Adrian Gonzalez, rehabbing from shoulder surgery, also will have to be worked in somewhere before long.

There's a strong possibility Crawford will hit fifth in the order to protect David Ortiz in the sixth spot, as Crawford being on base and a threat to steal would foil the infield shift teams often employ against Ortiz. Crawford said he'll do whatever Francona asks.

"It would be fine with me. I have no problems with it," Crawford said. "I'm still going to play the way I play no matter where he puts me."

From a defensive standpoint, the image of having Crawford in left and Ellsbury in center was impressive. That's a lot of speed in the outfield.

Since Ellsbury arrived in the big leagues in 2007, the two speedsters have pushed each other. Now that they're teammates, it'll be a friendly competition.

"It's nice to have him on our side," Ellsbury said. "Both of us will do what's best for the team. It's nice to have that competitive spirit and it's only going to make both of us better."

Francona first built his relationship with Crawford when both were with Team USA for an Olympic qualifier in Taiwan in November 2001. Francona was the team's manager; Crawford was 19 and hadn't reached the big leagues yet.

"He was raw," Francona said. "I've known him for a while. I've always liked him. We had some days that we had some tough times [against] him [in Tampa], for obvious reasons. Hopefully now it'll happen to other teams."

Francona and Ellsbury weren't the only two excited about Crawford's spring debut. Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, sitting in the clubhouse prior to Monday's game, talked about Boston's potential for 2011.

"He's going to add a lot of things," Ortiz said. "He puts a lot of pressure on pitchers and hitters. Man, I'm telling you, he's going to be fun to watch."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.