Local News

Former Bull Off To Great Start With Devil Rays

Posted April 3, 2003 3:11 a.m. EST

— It was a fun season last year for the Durham Bulls, who won the International League championship.

Although it's nice to win minor-league championships, the team's main goal is to develop players. Durham has done that, too.

Four men who played in Durham last year were in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' opening day lineup. One -- Carl Crawford -- was a home-run hero.

Every athlete has a unique timetable; some see their skills blossom earlier than others. For Crawford, a Tampa Bay outfielder, 85 games with the Bulls helped him find an extra gear.

On a normal baseball clock, the 21-year-old would still be in Class AAA. But manager Lou Pinella decided to put the cat-quick Crawford in the Devil Rays' opening-day lineup.

Bulls manager Bill Evers saw those leadership qualities last year. Crawford is a first-to-the-park, last-to-leave kind of guy.

"Well, he's an exciting athlete who's only going to get better," Evers said. "The good thing about Carl is if you challenge him, he'll respond to the challenge."

There will be many challenges for the young outfielder this season. But the Devil Rays are willing to balance the bobbles with the possibility of solid contact -- like they saw Monday night, when Crawford hit the game-winning homer in Tampa Bay's home opener.

Crawford's athleticism is exceptional, as well. In addition to the University of Nebraska wanting him as a quarterback for its football team, UCLA offered Crawford a full scholarship to play basketball.

Sticking with baseball proved a wise choice for Crawford. He's off to a good start for Tampa Bay, hitting .333, and he has three steals in three games.