LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- Justin Crawford doesn't remember whether he threw a strike during his first baseball memory, but he does know it helped shape his love of the game.A 4-year-old Crawford threw out the first pitch to his Major League dad, Carl, before a Rays game at Tropicana Field
LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- Justin Crawford doesn't remember whether he threw a strike during his first baseball memory, but he does know it helped shape his love of the game.
A 4-year-old Crawford threw out the first pitch to his Major League dad, Carl, before a Rays game at Tropicana Field in the late 2000s.
"He used to take me to the clubhouse with all the players, so my dad mostly, but even all the players would show me the ropes," Justin Crawford said. "My dad obviously is a big part of my life with baseball and got me to where I am today.
"I would say it helps me out a little bit. He would take me out to the field during batting practice, and those balls are obviously hit a lot harder, so I guess it made it a little easier for me. Just help me maybe adjust to the game a lot easier and just knowing what those balls are like off the bat."
Being the son of a former big leaguer added pressure early on, but the 14-year-old Crawford is starting to make a name for himself as he follows in his father's footsteps.
"At times, when I was younger, I did, but as I play now I don't feel it anymore," Crawford said. "I just play the game."
Crawford, who used to play football and basketball but is now focusing on baseball, is competing with the BreakThrough Series team at the 2018 WWBA Freshman Championships this weekend in South Florida.
The Breakthrough Series, which was established in 2008, is a joint effort between MLB and USA Baseball to promote baseball as a viable collegiate and professional option for youth from minority backgrounds.
"I was extremely excited because I put in a lot of work to get here, and to know that it paid off feels amazing," said Crawford, who attends Rolling Hills Preparatory in Torrance, Calif. "All these teams here and players I'm playing with are all amazing guys and good people to be around. The competition is great."
According to Perfect Game's scouting report, Crawford is a 5-foot-11, 140-pound outfielder with room to fill out. He has smooth glove skills and will develop more arm strength as he adds weight. A left-handed hitter, his swing projects nicely with strength.
Former big leaguer Homer Bush, one of the BreakThrough Series team's coaches, sees a young player who knows the strike zone and has a good swing.
"The athleticism jumps off the charts, and then once you see how he handles himself at the plate, you can tell he's gotten some really good coaching along the way," Bush said. "But the first thing a coach usually notices is pure athleticism.
"He has a very high-level approach at the plate. The approach that he has and the swing path that he has, you just don't fall into that. That usually comes with some coaching that's pretty good."
One of the people to credit for that mature approach is former big leaguer Junior Spivey, who has been coaching Crawford since he was 6.
Spivey projects Crawford as a top-of-the-order player who uses his legs as an asset. He has tried preaching "understanding his abilities and what he brings to the table."
"He has a chance to be better than his dad," said Spivey, who came to see Crawford play on Saturday at Santaluces Sports Complex. "He's driven, he's hungry, he just wants the information, he loves to be coached. He's a coach's dream because he wants to be coached, and you just coach him up, and he understands the game and understands that no stage's too big for him."
Christina De Nicola is an editorial producer for MLB.com based in Miami.