ARLINGTON -- Carl Crawford hasn't forgotten his roots, nor the Little League coach who did so much to help jump-start his lucrative career as a professional athlete. Crawford happily posed for pictures and signed autographs before Saturday's game for a group of 75 young players, parents and coaches who made a 4 1/2-hour drive from Houston just to see their famous patron. The group, permitted by the Rangers to watch the Rays' batting practice from the field, represented two youth teams sponsored by Crawford and directed by Kerry Hardy, who was Crawford's own Little League coach 16 years ago. "I met Carl when he was, like, 9 years old," said Hardy, 45. "He played for me on a team called the East Houston Twins, and we've been friends ever since. I knew when he was 9 years old that this kid was destined for greatness. He was that much better than everybody else."
Hardy said he took Crawford to a Houston Astros tryout camp when the outfielder was 14, only to see him turned away for being two years too young. He also arranged for Crawford to be seen by scouts from the Blue Jays and Padres organizations, but those clubs decided not to spend a Draft pick on a multisport athlete they thought was destined to play college football. The Devil Rays, using the 52nd overall pick, selected Crawford in the second round of the 1999 Draft and have been rewarded with a player who developed into an All-Star outfielder. And when Crawford decided last year he wanted to help promote inner-city baseball in his hometown, he knew just whom to call. "I wanted to deal with somebody I know I could trust," Crawford said. "Who better than somebody who coached you at that age?" Crawford told Hardy he would fund the uniforms and equipment for two teams this year -- the Pearland Lightning and Southside Lightning -- and expects to do the same for at least four teams next year as the squads switch affiliation from Little League to United States Slo-Pitch Softball Association (USSSA). Ultimately, Hardy said, the group hopes to get a grant to help purchase land and build a Carl Crawford Sports Complex to serve Houston youth athletes. "You hear a lot of reasons why there are fewer African American kids playing baseball," Hardy said. "But I think the main reason is that they've kind of been priced out of baseball because it's so expensive to play ... when bats cost $300, gloves are so expensive. And although some guys talk about it, there's not a lot of Major League guys putting back into the community. But Carl is committed." Crawford, who is also an alum of Major League Baseball's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) youth program, said he plans to be "hands-on" with the teams whose uniforms bear his name on their sleeves. "I'm trying to win with that team," he said. "The goal is to get at least one of those teams to Williamsport Pa., [home of the Little League World Series]. I'm just trying to keep the flow of baseball going in Houston." Pena sits: First baseman Carlos Pena, sporting a bruised left hand from being hit by a pitch on Thursday and mired in a 15-for-82 slump (.183) since July 19, was given a day off on Saturday. Pena accepted the rest gratefully. "My hand is a little purple, which is weird because I'm dark-skinned and never get bruised," Pena said. "It's OK, but there's no doubt this is a good time [for a rest]. To refresh my mind, revitalize my body, it can only help." Manager Joe Maddon said Pena would likely return to the lineup Sunday, but explained, "I just wanted to give him a day off and let him back off a little bit. I just thought he's been grinding it a little too hard lately." Faith grows in Dohmann: Eight consecutive scoreless relief appearances have a way of earning the manager's trust. Such is the case with right-hander Scott Dohmann, who has worked eight shutout innings in eight games since he was last scored upon on July 22 at Yankee Stadium. "He's got really good stuff," Maddon said. "If he throws strikes, you can use him in a variety of situations. I think his confidence is coming up, and we're having more confidence to use him in a variety of roles." Dohmann, 29, had his contract purchased from Triple-A Durham on July 20 and coughed up three runs to the Yankees in just his second appearance. But he settled in and picked up his first win of the season. The reliever has lowered his ERA from 12.00 to 3.27 during his recent stretch of success. Bullpen addition possible: Both the Rays and the Baltimore Orioles are expected to make offers for former Indians reliever Fernando Cabrera when the right-hander clears release waivers on Monday. Cabrera, 25, was cut loose by Cleveland after going 1-2 with a 5.61 ERA in 24 games. In parts of four big league seasons, Cabrera compiled a 6-6 record and 4.35 ERA in 130 1/3 innings. In that span, he walked 66 batters and struck out 145, but also allowed 20 home runs. Baldelli improving: Maddon said outfielder Rocco Baldelli [strained left hamstring] is creeping closer to seeing game action. Baldelli could begin a Minor League rehab assignment within the next nine days and he hopes to make a late August return to the Rays. Maddon said Baldelli will see time primarily as a designated hitter when he comes back, and sparingly used in the outfield in an attempt to keep his legs healthy for next season. B.J. Upton will remain the Rays' primary center fielder in what is looking more like the long-term plan. "It's all about how [Baldelli] feels," Maddon said. "[First base] is not out of the question, but we haven't even talked about it. I'm expecting to pop him as the DH and use him in the outfield a little bit." Minor League report: Right fielder Justin Ruggiano was 2-for-3 with two steals on Friday for Triple-A Durham, but the Bulls managed only four hits in a 4-0 loss to Toledo. ... RHP Tim Corcoran worked two perfect innings of relief to get the win in Double-A Montgomery's 7-4 victory over Chattanooga. ... Left fielder J.T. Hall was 3- for-4 with a home run in Class A Vero Beach's 7-4 loss to Lakeland. ... Left fielder Ryan Royster homered twice and drove in six runs to power Class A Columbus over Greensboro, 15-9, in the South Atlantic League. Briefly: The Rays signed right-handed pitcher Joseph Cruz, their 30th-round Draft pick from East Los Angeles Junior College. With next Wednesday's deadline looming, the Rays have signed 24 picks from this year's Draft, including seven of their top 10 selections, and 20 of their first 30. ... Crawford entered Saturday with 20 hits in his last seven games, the most ever by a Rays player in a seven-game span. Since 1957, only four players have had more hits within seven games: Kenny Lofton (22 twice in 1997), Johnny Damon (22 in 2004, 21 in 2000), Joe Randa (21 in 1999) and Tim Salmon (21 in 1994). ... Delmon Young entered Saturday leading all Major League rookies with 135 hits. He is on pace for 190 hits, which would eclipse the club rookie record of 184 set by Baldelli in 2003. ... Right-handed pitcher James Shields, scheduled to start Monday's game against the Red Sox, will take a late afternoon flight to Boston ahead of the team on Sunday. The rest of the squad won't make it to Boston until at least 5 a.m. ET on Monday. Up next: Right-hander Jason Hammel (1-1, 6.09) is scheduled to face Texas left-hander Kason Gabbard (5-1, 3.93) in Sunday's finale of the three-game series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. First pitch is scheduled for 8:35 p.m. ET.
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.