By: Nick Galle
Just about 58 miles north of Bourne, Red Sox closer Matt Barnes is having the best season of his career. Across the border, George Springer signed a six-year, $150 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays this past offseason, the most expensive contract in the team’s history.
Both players had decorated careers at the University of Connecticut and would end up playing for the USA Collegiate National Team, and now another player is following a similar path, and his name is Reggie Crawford.
Crawford was selected to the 2021 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team roster after hitting .295 with 13 home runs and 62 RBIs this past season for the Huskies, the most home runs and RBIs in the BIG EAST Conference. He was also dominant when he was on the mound, striking out 17 batters in 7 2/3 innings. The left-hander posted a 2.35 ERA, and opponents hit just .172 against him through his six appearances.
Crawford will be hitting and pitching with Team USA, and he said that he is eager to be playing alongside some of the most talented collegiate players in the country.
“I’m just excited to play with really, really quality guys,” Crawford said. “I mean I’m going to do that here (Bourne), and I do that at school, but I feel like it’s going to be next-level kind of baseball I haven’t really seen yet, so I’m super excited.”
Before it was confirmed that he was selected to the team, Crawford had heard a few things from his coaches at UConn about playing for Team USA, but the Frackville, Pennsylvania, native waited patiently for the official announcement.
“I started hearing things from my college coaches, and at that point I was happy, but I just wanted the official call,” Crawford said.
That call came just a couple days later. Crawford was told that the coaches don’t pick the team, but rather the team picks itself. He was also told that the experience was one that sticks with a player for the entirety of their career.
“He said that it’ll be one of those things that when you’re in the big leagues you’ll be finding other guys that were on your team and you’ll be talking about that and things you guys did back at Team USA in college,” Crawford said. “So he said that’ll be some of the things you have to look forward to in the future.”
Team USA will be divided into two teams, the Stars and Stripes. The two squads will face each other 11 times from July 2 to July 15. Games will be played in Virginia, Tennessee and West Virginia, with one game at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina.
In the meantime, Crawford said he plans on using his time on the Cape to bolster some of his skills prior to the first week of July.
“For me I just want to let the ball travel deeper,” Crawford said. “That’s what I struggled with this college season, just trying to get everything out front, and that’s mainly what I’m trying to work on.”
Crawford has gone 4-for-10 (.400) at the plate with two doubles through his first two games with the Braves. Assistant coach Kevin Graber said he has the right approach in the batter’s box, and it’s sure to serve him well in the future.
“Well one thing is that Reggie is fundamentally sound, to me, in that he works the inside part of the baseball, and his default is to use the left-center-field gap as a left-handed hitter,” Graber said. “So when you watch him take batting practice, it’s not about hitting the ball over the fence, it’s not about home run derby, it’s about good, solid, fundamental line drives, and I think that’s going to serve him really well in the long run.”
Fans and scouts also got their first look at the lefty on the mound when Bourne traveled to Brewster for a matchup with the Whitecaps. Crawford allowed zero runners to reach in the eighth and struck out two. His fastball was overpowering, sitting in the high-90s, with one heater even clocking in at 99 mph.
Even though pitching coach Eddie Marko had really only seen him pitch in a scrimmage prior to his appearance against Brewster, he said the way the ball jumped out of Crawford’s hand immediately stood out to him. Marko said Crawford hasn’t been working on anything specific tendency-wise on the hill here in Bourne just yet, and the coaching staff is just letting pitchers stay true to their game.
“We’re just letting them play,” Marko said. “You know just letting them play and be themselves.”
Aside from his contributions on the stat sheet, Graber said that Crawford brings a variety of other skills to the Bravos that have helped build team chemistry early on this summer.
“Energy, enthusiasm, leadership and he’s eternally polite,” Graber said. “He’s the really neat combination of being super competitive on the field, but just a really, really well-mannered kid in every other environment.”
Between playing with some of the country’s best collegiate players, having games at beautiful fields along the southern part of the East Coast and everything in between, out of all the things Team USA will have to offer, the 6-foot-4 two-way standout said that being able to bear his country’s uniform is what he is looking forward to the most.
“Being able to wear the USA jerseys, that’ll be really cool,” Crawford said. “It’ll make for some good pictures, it’ll just be a really fun experience.”
Cover photo via: Joe Sullivan