|ESPN.com: BlogsColumns||[Print without images]|
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- This was the question for Bobby Valentine as he removed his microphone following his media session Monday afternoon.
Could Carl Crawford possibly imagine losing a footrace to his manager?
"Why would he?" Valentine said. "Crooked-legged old guy with gray hair?"
The tweet had come from @WesYee, whose profile identifies him as a marketing manager on the West Coast. He noted that in high school, Crawford had run the 60-yard dash in 6.38 seconds, which was the time published in a 10-year-old profile of Crawford in his early days with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Valentine was a Connecticut state champion in the 60-yard dash. His best time? 6.1.
"That's what the coaches told me," he said, confirming one reason why USC recruited him to succeed O.J. Simpson.
"Crooked-legged old guy" doesn't do Valentine justice, of course. Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis said Monday that he has never met anyone in his life with more energy than the 61-year-old Valentine, who begins each morning by rising before dawn and riding his bicycle nearly 8 miles to the team's spring training complex, closer to 10 when he takes a roundabout way. "I see the sun come up over there," he said, pointing beyond a vacant field.
What Valentine didn't expect to see Monday was Crawford, who arrived here three days before the reporting date for position players.
"I didn't know he was here," said Valentine, who greeted his left fielder with an enthusiastic high-five to his surgically repaired left wrist. "I walked around the corner, and he was throwing the ball. It was great to see him. His health looks much better than I expected. I was pleasantly surprised."
Of all the issues challenging Valentine this season, this is one he can least afford to run from. Valentine doesn't have to race Crawford, but he has to help point Crawford in the opposite direction from the disaster of last season, when Crawford's on-base percentage of .289 was the lowest ever for a Sox left fielder (minimum 300 at-bats).
From the vantage point of a TV broadcast booth, Valentine was among those who opined that Crawford's mechanics were a mess last season -- his stance was too open and his swing was late on too many pitches.
Some thought Crawford was offended, which might have had something to do with his not taking Valentine up on his offer to visit CC in his Houston hometown after being named Red Sox manager.
|As an early arrival at camp, Carl Crawford didn't sound like he was dwelling on last season's struggles.|
But if their first face-to-face meeting, an amiable chat on a back practice field, was any indication, whatever ill will Crawford might have been harboring is a distant memory, which his words afterward backed up.
"I don't have feelings about that," Crawford said. "His job was to do stuff like that on TV. I kind of understand how that goes. I'm playing for him now as a manager, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't feel that way. Me and Bobby have no hard feelings. We share a common goal trying to help the Red Sox win."
Meanwhile, Valentine sounded smitten. "He had the great look in his eye," Valentine said. "He's a great athlete. He looks like he's going to have good health.
"His agent [Greg Genske] told me he had worked on some things. We like it. Obviously he's not swinging yet, but as long as he has a good image of himself, that's all that matters."
Better yet? Crawford, when critiquing his own befouled mechanics, said -- you guessed it -- that his stance was too wide and he was late on too many pitches. Hard to fault Valentine for saying the same thing months before.
Crawford showed up early, he said, because the club's training staff wanted to monitor the condition of his wrist. He was upbeat and engaging, and appeared unruffled by the media swarm that surrounded him in the clubhouse Monday morning. He openly uttered the words "beer" and "chicken" when asked about clubhouse shenanigans, words that were threatening to become add-ons to George Carlin's list of Seven Dirty Words.
Even reporters were dancing around them. Not Carl. "I guess you're talking about the chicken and beer, right?" he said, plunging right in.
Crawford even worked in a "Linsanity" reference, saying he couldn't abide repeated viewings of his failed attempt at a sliding catch on the season's last play. "You can't [see] it over and over, like Linsanity," he said.
He openly discussed his failures last season -- "it was so bad there's nothing you can do or say to make up for it" -- while offering no excuses. He mentioned almost in an off-handed fashion that he'd had several injections in his wrist. "I think I was out of whack so many ways last year that the wrist was minor," he said.
Crawford's battered psyche after last season resembled the Green Monster he played in front of.
"Everybody saw what happened,'' he said. "It was well-documented. The main thing is just to let that go and try to start over and do what you've normally done for the last nine years."
Valentine's job is to remove some of those dents and restore Crawford's confidence, a battle that might not be as hard to win as some might have thought. Crawford's injury will delay putting it to the test, but he sounded like a man who retained a strong sense of his own worth, one not easily wiped out by a single bad season.
Valentine, the godfather of positive energy, will look to reinforce that conviction, day after day. There are things they will still have to hash out, like where Crawford will hit in the batting order. But Valentine and Crawford sound like they're in step with each other.
Maybe Valentine, the bicyclist, should think about buying a tandem.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.