Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
The Master and the Protege`
I might be romancing the situation a bit here, but I hope the moment Desmond Jennings entered the Rays Clubhouse today Carl Crawford went over and welcomed the young Rays rookie to “The Show”. Over the next few weeks, its seems more than likely that Crawford will be a wealth of information and knowledge that could help Jennings make his adjustment as a Major Leaguer easier. Crawford could provide an essential network of past experiences and mishaps and provide the guidance and inspiration needed while Jennings becomes secure in his new role, and before Crawford passes the torch to the young outfielder.
It is now, with just 30 games left that I am finally bring it out in the open that Crawford might never again don a Rays cap after 2010. unless it is during an introduction speech during a blustery Summer day in Cooperstown. You have to wonder if Crawford will soon begin to reminisce and look across the Rays clubhouse and envision his own fresh experiences after being called-up in 2002.
That was when former Ray Leftfielder Greg Vaughn saddled up next to Crawford and began to be a positive force during his first taste of the Major Leagues, and Vaughn began to mentor Crawford through his new adventure, and also how to leave a positive impression with grace and dignity knowing that the franchise would be in great hands with the young rookie.
In those early days, Crawford used to pull on the number 8 D-Rays jersey with the zeal and enthusiasm not unlike a child waking up on Christmas morning. The whole MLB World was vibrantly new and fresh to his then young eyes, and from that first moment on July 20, 2002 we knew as Rays fans we were witnessing the first passing of the Rays outfield torch from Vaughn to Crawford. It is amazing the similarities between Crawford ( LF ) and Jennings ( RF ) as they anchor the opposite ends of the Tropicana Field outfield during Jennings MLB debut this evening.
Crawford, being one of the Rays clubhouse leaders will take the young outfielder under his wings and show him some of the paths to greatness in this game. Not because Crawford has to, but because it is in his personality to want the best for his teammates, and for the guy who will immediately be under pressure in the Spring of 2011to emulate everything that Crawford has meant to this team. Since Crawford’s own MLB debut for the Rays versus the Blue Jays in Toronto on July 20, 2002 we have seen the swift outfielder evolve and mature into the consummate professional he is today. This unique bond of each debuting against the same foe just seems perfectly fitting tonight.
It is a bit weird at times knowing in your own mind that you are seeing the on-going maturation process of one player, while maybe also saying a silent goodbye to another over the span of the next 30 games. Hopefully we will see a few flashes of brilliance with Jennings that will ease the thoughts and tears of a Crawford departure. Sure it is not written in stone yet that Crawford will definitely head to a greener turf in 2011. But the stark realization that Crawford might have finally been transported into Vaughn’s own 2002 role to show the young rookie just what it means to play at this highest level day in and day out.
I can not think of a better player amongst the Rays to mentor, or even coax Jennings along during the rest of this season. Crawford has traditionally been one of those stoic Rays players who do not evoke bizarre headlines or any type of tabloid tales about his whereabouts or his after game activities. His own code of secrecy bonds perfectly with his low key personality and makes him a great example of playing the game with class and respect on and off the field. Hopefully Jennings can recognize that Crawford’s genuine admiration for the game and for his team is only a fraction of the hope Crawford has that Jennings can fill the void left within this team if Crawford does decide to permanently vacate his Rays locker at the end of the 2010 post season.
Tonight we will see the infant phase of the transformation. The night for Jennings will be filled with stomach butterflies, nervous energy and anxious moments. Each ball hit to him tonight will either feel like it is suspended in slow motion towards his glove, or seem to be coming at him like a rocket. Every single pitch will seem to be magnified and each plate appearance will seem like only seconds and evaporate in front of him way too soon.
Tonight after Rays starter David Price throws his first pitch, Jennings nerves will ease a bit, the entire crowd setting of Tropicana Field will become more secure and inviting as Jennings settles into his Major League career. Tonight we will witness the beginning of one great Rays players’ career, and might also begin to realize we will also start a proverbial countdown of another Rays players’ tenure in their Rays uniform.
I think somewhere in the distance, Greg Vaughn will be proud of the exciting player and Rays leader Crawford has become. Hopefully the first person Jennings sees after each plate appearance and who ultimately crosses paths with him as they enter by the dugout rail will be Crawford. Eager to talk about the inning, the pitcher on the mound, or just clowning around a bit to cut the tension and nerves a bit because that is what veterans do for rookies, ease then into their next great moments. And with each small piece of knowledge and advice, hopefully a little more of the flame and the passion of playing at this level will be ignited in Jennings.
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