By Jessica Camerato
BOSTON - When Haverhill native Carlos Pena returned to Boston this weekend for the Red Sox-Cubs series at Fenway Park, it was more than just a reunion with friends and family in the local area.
It was an opportunity to see Carl Crawford, with whom he spent four seasons on the Tampa Bay Rays. Over the years the two developed a strong bond as teammates - and friends. During that time he got to see a different side of Crawford - one that isnt always visible on the field - especially after a slow start this season.
I know that for the fans or for the people that are on the outside looking in, you may judge a player on pure numbers and stats, Pena said. Carl is so much more than that, so much more than that.
From the moment that he signed with the Rays in 2007 (following a season with the Red Sox), Pena knew that he wanted to get to know Crawford. While others had been reluctant to approach Crawford and interrupt his focus, Pena introduced himself and cracked a joke. The two quickly cliqued.
Pena had always admired his game and soon found out all the work that Crawford put into it.
I think just seeing his discipline made me work even harder, said Pena. Im the type of guy, when I was in college Id think, I dont want anyone to work harder than me. No one in this entire world is going to be working as hard as me. Theres not going to be a college player waking up at 5am. Then I get to Tampa and heres Carl Crawford giving me a run for my money. I was like, Wait a second - can I really compete with this guy? This guys crazy. I cant do all these squats after the game or all these sprints. I have so much respect for that type of work ethic.
If anything, it just pushed me even harder to work even more. Hes the type of guy wholl do it when no ones watching - thats the thing. Its so easy to say, See here, Im lifting weights, my coach is looking at me. But when theres no one in the gym and hes pounding the weights or doing all these crazy exercises because he knows thats what he needs to do to get better, that to me is just, whether he got four hits or didnt get any, he would be in that gym just pounding away and getting ready for tomorrow. Its crazy.
Pena fed off of Crawfords discipline and began following a routine of his own. In his first season with the Rays, he batted a career-high .282 with 46 homeruns. Crawford noticed his new teammates work paying off.
The main thing was sticking to his routine, said Crawford. A lot of guys, they get going and they go good and they kind of slack off a little bit. But he did a really good job once he developed that routine of sticking with it.
The two worked out together. They talked in the cage together. They sat in the back of the plane together. And while Pena credits Crawford for motivating him to improve, Crawford says they did it together.
We kind of helped each other, to be honest with you, said Crawford. We kind of thrived off each other. If I was down, he would tell me something to pick me up, and vice versa. We just said we were going to keep each other going, and we fed off each other pretty much.
The two also entered free agency together. Last winter Pena signed with the Cubs while Crawford inked a blockbuster deal with the Red Sox. Pena believed Crawford would succeed in Boston, and even after Crawford hit .155 in April, Pena always felt he would bounce back. He had watched Crawford put in too much work over the years to think he would settle for performing sub-par.
I think hes been doing pretty well actually in the last 20 days or so, he said, referencing Crawfords .288 average in May. I know hes been hitting the ball pretty well, so hell be fine. Hes one of those sure bets and I believe in Carl Crawford all the way until he takes his uniform off his back. I know that hell be that same player that Ive seen for so many years, that I had the pleasure to watch so closely for so many years. Hell thrive here in Boston. People will embrace a guy like how hard he plays and how hard of a teammate he is. I think people in Boston will love Carl Crawford.
Even though they are on opposing teams now, Pena admits he is still a fan of Crawford. And like so many members of Red Sox Nation, he is rooting for him to succeed this season.
Carl is a warrior, said Pena. Carl is one of those guys that I will go to battle with him any day. I just know that he will thrive wherever he goes. I used to joke around and say if you try to follow Carl Crawford and go through all this workout regimens, you wont be able to survive because theres no harder worker than him. Im pretty sure thatll be the same way all the way up to the point he retires, and probably beyond. I know Carl will succeed wherever he goes.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comjcameratonba