'My rock': Crawford inspired by mom, victory vs. cancer

May 8th, 2022

SEATTLE -- J.P. Crawford wears his emotions on his sleeve more than arguably any player on the Mariners, so it’s no surprise that he’s particularly sentimental when speaking about his mother, Beth, who played a huge part in his athletic development and his passion for baseball. 

Beth was at the center of Crawford’s most trying days off the field after she was diagnosed with throat cancer during his first full season as a professional in 2013, when he was just 18 years old and still sorting out his career and finding his way as an adult. 

Crawford would regularly drive Beth to chemotherapy treatments during his senior year at Lakewood (Calif.) High School, and continued, when he was able, after being drafted by the Phillies in the first round later that year.

“You really don’t think it’s happening,” Crawford said. “You think everything is going to be OK. I remember taking her one day to chemo, and she had her little face covering mask and could barely talk. She got out of my car and I burst into tears, and I [wished] I could take some of this pain away.”

Thankfully, Beth has recovered after a process that lasted two years. It was an incredibly scary and trying time for J.P., his sisters, Eliza and Julia, and his father, Larry. 

“She's clear, but it makes me look at life totally different after that,” Crawford said. “I don't take anything for granted, and [you] treat every day like it's your last. Your family members -- you love them. You don't know when they get taken away.”

Beth oversaw a busy, athletic household outside Long Beach, Calif., where the family still resides. Larry played nine years in the Canadian Football League and retired shortly before Crawford was born in 1995. Beth grew up playing basketball and volleyball at a high level and had an offer to play the latter at San Diego State. Eliza (softball) and Julia (volleyball) each earned athletic scholarships at Cal State Fullerton.

It was the adolescent recipe for a wildly competitive environment -- and it helped shape the player that Crawford grew into today. While his bat has taken off over the past 12 months, a fiery edge has always been there.

“Honestly, that just comes from how I've always played, ever since I was little,” Crawford said. “I used to hate when I’d lose at anything. My dad and my older sister [Eliza], they used to beat me at everything and [showed] me no mercy. Playing basketball in the backyard, kickball -- even in the batting cages. They would beat me at everything and it would make me like legitimately mad, and I think that's where my competitiveness comes from.”

If Larry and Eliza instilled an edge in Crawford, Beth helped him better channel his emotions. She’s the first person he calls on good and bad days, and she was always there when Crawford was in what he described as “a really dark place” before the Mariners acquired him from the Phillies in December 2018.

Crawford was a highly touted prospect, ranked as high as No. 5 in baseball, per MLB Pipeline, and viewed as the heir apparent at shortstop to Philadelphia franchise icon Jimmy Rollins. But it took Crawford a few years to figure things out in the Majors and he never got going in Philly, where he slashed .214/.333/.358 (.692 OPS) and he felt his passion for baseball dwindling.

Weathering learning curves in a high-pressure sports media market like Philly compounded the issue. But Beth was always -- and still is -- just a phone call away.

“She's been my rock ever since I was a kid,” Crawford said. “She's sacrificed so much for me and my sisters, and helped us get to the point where we are today. So she does so much for me and my family.”

On Sunday, Beth will be in Seattle for the Mariners’ matinee against the Rays. After everything that the Crawfords went through during Beth’s recovery from throat cancer, this close-knit family from Southern California has a special view of Mother’s Day.