NEW YORK – J.P. Crawford was a little bit surprised when he got the call to come to the major leagues and join the Phillies to make his debut on Tuesday night against the Mets. The 22-year-old infielder, the Phillies’ first-round draft pick in 2013 and their top prospect, had figured that he would remain in Triple-A through the playoffs after Lehigh Valley clinched its spot on Monday – thanks in part to a two-run homer that Crawford hit.
When the call comes, though, you don’t turn it down, so Crawford called his mom – “she went nuts” – then drove from Allentown to Philadelphia, and on to New York to make his dream come true.
“My whole family’s here,” Crawford said. “And a bunch of my close friends came, too.”
One of Crawford’s close friends already was going to be at the game anyway. Dominic Smith, selected five spots ahead of Crawford with the No. 11 pick four years ago, played with Crawford in the RBI program and at MLB’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton.
“It’s exciting,” said Smith, who fielded the first ball Crawford hit in the majors, then threw it into left field as he tried to start a double play. “I’m so happy for him. It’s a long time coming. We worked extremely hard to get in this position, and for him to be in this position, it’s surreal. It’s almost fake. It’s like a dream. Definitely, I’m excited to get out on the field with him again.”
That excitement, of course, was mutual. Crawford said that it was nice to have familiar faces around with some of his former minor league teammates, but it was all the better being able to take the same field as a longtime friend.
“We work out together, we’ll go hit together, and whatnot,” Crawford said. “We hang out a lot. We’re still good friends. … Just to be on the same field as him in my first game, it’s so fun.”
Smith went to the same high school, Junipero Serra, as Padres catcher Austin Hedges, while Crawford went to school half an hour away at Lakewood, which produced another former Phillies first-round pick, current Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud. So, the odds of Smith and Crawford having a reunion in this fashion might not be as astronomical as it seems, but only by the slightest amount. What’s more, when Smith made his debut last month, it was in Philadelphia.
“It’s pretty wild, pretty crazy,” Smith said. “We’re division rivals, so I’ll see a bunch of him, but to accomplish what we’ve accomplished is pretty remarkable: to get drafted the same year, get drafted both in the first round, both make it to the big leagues in the same year, debut against each other. It’s pretty exciting.”
That excitement far overshadows the rivalry between the Mets and Phillies, especially right now with both teams far removed from playoff contention. The idea, of course, is for Smith and Crawford to play big roles in the rivalry returning to prominence.
“We have fun years ahead of us,” Smith said. “The Phillies have a young team over there – their future’s bright – and so do we. We’ve got a young team and we’ve got a lot of guys who can help us win the World Series one day. We’re definitely going to try to carry the rivalry out and we’ll try to beat them every time we can.”
Regardless of what their teams are doing, though, the childhood friends will remain just that.
“He’s a great person to be around,” Smith said. “He’s always going to keep the mood light and happy. He’s easy to get along with, and he’s just fun.”
As happy as Crawford was on Tuesday, and as much as he has a positive attitude, he did face a challenge this year as he hit .211/.328/330 before the All-Star break and saw himself drop on midseason prospect ranking lists. Crawford admitted that he used those rankings as motivation as he battled the first extended struggles of his career, and he rebounded in the second half to hit .287/.385/.513 with nine homers in 51 games for the IronPigs.
“My confidence will never go down,” Crawford said. “My parents taught me better than that. Just always keep your head up and keep going out there. I worked hard every day and I knew the results were gonna come. … No one wants to struggle, but knowing what you have to do to get out of it, knowing what kind of person you are, that helps.”
By Jesse Spector