Brandon Crawford

Crawford soaks up ‘love' from fans in likely final Giants game

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Brandon Crawford has spent 13 years hiding his emotions on the field.

When he makes a spectacular defensive play, Crawford calmly gets to his feet and flashes the number of outs to his fellow infielders. With every homer, he jogs around the bases with his head down, with the only hint of celebration being a point to the sky when he touches the plate.

There is the occasional scowl after an error, but for the most part, Crawford has kept the same expression for 1,655 games. On the most emotional day of his career, that didn't change.

Crawford played it cool throughout his eight innings, even as the number of standing ovations approached double digits. He admitted later that the day was "a little overwhelming," but it's one he'll never forget.

The man who grew up dreaming of nothing else but playing shortstop for the San Francisco Giants did his best to soak in every second of a day that celebrated a career that surpassed even the wildest dreams he had while throwing a baseball against a wall in his parents' backyard in the East Bay 30 years ago.

"It was just a lot of love," Crawford said. "And I appreciate all of it."

Crawford's eight innings -- which got him up to 13,597 2/3 as a shortstop, plus one as a pitcher -- were uneventful. There was no dramatic home run, which wasn't a surprise given that he had not faced live pitching for nearly two weeks. The best defensive infielder in franchise history had the ball touch his glove just once.

But Crawford had plenty of moments he'll cherish for the rest of his life.

The day started, as so many of them have, with a few groundballs from Ron Wotus, his infield coach for most of his time in San Francisco. As he has done for 13 years, Crawford ended the session with a little flash, flipping the final grounder over his shoulder with his glove.

For 13 years, Wotus has responded to the tricks on the final grounder by holding his nose in silent protest. But given that it was their last day working together, Wotus cut Crawford a break and instead responded with a smile.

Crawford has known for several days that his four children would throw out the ceremonial first pitches, and they put on the kind of show you would expect from two boys and two girls being raised by an All-Star shortstop and a former world-class gymnast. The first roar of the day went to the Crawford children, but the rest of the afternoon was focused on the shortstop.

He took the field alone for the top of the first and hit leadoff, a move designed to maximize his opportunities to have a memorable finale. The cheers never stopped, and as several Dodgers veterans made their way to second base during a game they won 5-2, they shared their own thoughts with Crawford. Freddie Freeman, who has experienced similar love from fan bases in Atlanta and Los Angeles, told Crawford he hopes this isn't his final game in orange and black.

Crawford has always wanted to wear just one big league jersey, but over the second half of this season, it became clear to all parties that another year together wouldn't be happening. Crawford has seen Madison Bumgarner pitch for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Brandon Belt hit for the Toronto Blue Jays, and Bruce Bochy stand on the top step of the dugout for the Texas Rangers.

There is life after San Francisco, although he's not sure yet if he wants to pursue it.

The first step of Crawford's offseason will be deciding if he wants to play another season. This one was disappointing, not just for the Giants, but for Crawford himself. If he feels he has more to give as a 37-year-old, the next step will be up to others. He has pointed out several times this week that even if he wants to play, he'll be reliant on someone offering him the right opportunity.

All of that is a conversation for the offseason. On Sunday, the focus was on celebrating a homegrown star who won two World Series titles, made three NL All-Star teams, and took home four Gold Glove Awards and a Silver Slugger.

When he walked off to one last ovation in the top of the ninth, Crawford did so as the franchise's leader in games played at shortstop. Only Willie McCovey, Willie Mays and Barry Bonds have played more games for the San Francisco Giants, period.

It's a run of durability and excellence that started when Crawford was promoted to the big leagues on May 26, 2011. He made an impact right away, hitting a grand slam against the Milwaukee Brewers and showing that he had much more to offer than just a slick glove.

Crawford's defense has dominated the conversation for 13 years, but he'll go down as one of the more productive offensive players in San Francisco Giants history, too. That grand slam was the first of 146 regular season home runs, with two more -- including another memorable slam -- coming in the postseason. Crawford ranks third in San Francisco Giants history in triples, fifth in doubles, hits and RBI, and eighth in walks.

By any standard, it's one of the best careers in Giants history. It's a career that has put Crawford in the spotlight for over a decade, and while he's no fan of public speaking, he took the microphone after the final out and thanked a fan base that has spent all season cheering loudly for the last link to the championship years.

"A dream come true doesn't quite cover it," Crawford said.

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