How a change of scenery flipped Crawford's mindset

April 27th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Calling it the Revenge Game wouldn’t be a stretch at all. It might be putting it lightly.

The Mariners’ shortstop hit an emphatic grand slam, the second of his career, on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park, but they blew the lead in the eighth in a 6-5 loss to the Phillies. Lessening the sting of defeat for the seventh-year big leaguer was that he did so against his former team, and in a venue that still leaves him with mixed emotions.

“I kind of had some dark times here,” Crawford said. “I look at it kind of as a sign of how far I’ve come from such a dark place. I didn’t really have the best experience over here. I don’t really feel anything to be back here.”

Crawford hadn’t homered since Game 1 of the American League Division Series in Houston, another example illustrating that he saves his best homers for big moments. Yet even for all the emotion he plays with -- labeled “the quarterback of our team” by manager Scott Servais -- it’s hard to recall him being as fired up as he was when rounding the bases on Wednesday.

Crawford was the Phillies’ first-round Draft pick in 2013 and ranked as high as MLB Pipeline’s No. 5 overall prospect in '16 before debuting in ‘17, ahead of Aaron Judge, Trea Turner and others. Yet he never quite found his footing in Philadelphia and battled through significant injuries (left thumb ligament tear, broken left hand, right forearm strain and more) that limited him to just 72 games over parts of two seasons. Crawford hit just .214/.333/.358 in his time with the Phils.

That led him to question his place in the game.

“When you come up in the prospect rankings, you have this entitlement to think you're going to hit .300 right out the gate and be the next greatest thing,” Crawford said. “Then you struggle a little bit, you don't get off to the greatest start, you get injured, you don't play and now all of a sudden you're a bust.

“All you know is negativity and there were no happy days to be in the big leagues. I didn't think that was what the big leagues were going to be like. As a kid, you come thinking the big leagues is going to be this whole change of life, really. It was genuinely the complete opposite.”

Crawford instead likes to think of how much he’s grown since. Even after the December 2018 trade that centered on sending Jean Segura to Philly, Crawford was noticeably dispirited in his first season. It led to stern conversations with veteran infielders Kyle Seager and Dee Gordon.

“When I first got over to Seattle, that first year, I was a hothead,” Crawford said. “I was still mad. I was just angry. And they really changed that for me. I’m a totally different player now than I was.

“Those two primarily got me to really see the light and the joy of being a big league baseball player, and that this game can be fun [no matter] if you're succeeding or failing. You're still a big league player, and you're living your dream out every day.”

Crawford has made Seattle a permanent home. After signing a five-year, $51 million extension last April, he joined this offseason as the lone players who live there year-round after buying a home with his wife, Kathy, in the suburbs across Lake Washington. His persona and swag have made him a fan favorite, and he’s loved them right back.

“We were talking about just never leaving after our career here,” Crawford said. “Hopefully, I play the rest of my career here in Seattle. I don't want to ever leave Seattle. We love the city. We bought into our community. Like, that's our home.”

After going 3-for-4 with four RBIs on Wednesday, Crawford is hitting .271/.407/.414 (.821 OPS) this season after beginning the year under the Mendoza Line through 11 games. His OBP is tied for 15th among 180 qualified hitters, making him the ideal No. 9 hitter given that there’s a strong chance he’ll be on base when the lineup flips to , who went back-to-back with Crawford with his fifth homer.

Crawford is doing his best to live in the moment. But coming back to the place where it all began this week in Philadelphia proved to carry a little extra motivation, reflection and perspective to where he came from and where he’s headed.