The Gentle Giant: Catching Up With Brandon Crawford

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Brandon Crawford
Brandon Crawford

Photo Credit: San Francisco Giants Facebook

In the 59 years that the Giants have called San Francisco home, there has never been a player quite like Brandon Crawford, the team’s current shortstop, and that’s not just us talking: The New York Times calls him “the best defensive player in baseball.” His playing was auspicious right out of the gate. The 30-year-old UCLA graduate made his Major League Baseball (MLB) career debut on May 27, 2011. In the third at-bat of his first game, he slugged in a grand slam, making him the sixth player in MLB history to hit a grand slam in his first game.

Since then, he’s become known for pounding in crucial, game-changing grand slams. In 2012, Crawford hit his second grand slam and drove in five runs to secure a Giants victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2014, he became the first shortstop ever to hit a grand slam in MLB postseason history when he batted in the players on first, second, and third in the fourth inning of the National League wild card game between the Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates. His overall performance during a six-year MLB career has been punctuated by remarkable milestones: receiving two consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Awards for superior fielding and two Wilson Defensive Player awards, and scoring the highest number of hits (seven) in one game in Giants franchise history. Then there were the two unforgettable World Series victories he was a part of.

Crawford dives to catch a ball
Crawford dives to catch a ball

Photo Credit: San Francisco Giants Facebook

Statistics and awards aside, there is something else that makes Crawford special to his fans—he’s a Bay Area boy, born and raised. Crawford hails from Mountain View and lived in Menlo Park before his family moved east to affluent Pleasanton. He grew up there knowing that he wanted to be a baseball player—not just any baseball player, a San Francisco Giant. “Since I was able to walk, I think, I knew I wanted to play ball,” Crawford recently told Haute Living as he prepared for the preseason period in Scottsdale. “I was always out back swinging off the tee, pretending to be different Giants players. My parents held onto an assignment I did in kindergarten where we were supposed to say what we wanted to do when we grew up. I think you can guess what I said.”

Crawford’s parents, Mike and Lynn, were Giants season ticket holders and regularly took Brandon and his three younger sisters to fan-related events. When Crawford was 5, a San Francisco Chronicle photographer snapped a photo of him next to an orange sign that read “Do what’s right! Keep Giants in SF.” It was September 27, 1992, and supposedly the last game at Candlestick Park for the Giants—who were in talks to move to Tampa at the time. In the image, a young Crawford wears a baseball cap backward and looks horribly sad. Had the Giants moved to Florida, the boy in the picture might never have grown up so inspired to play with the team. But thanks to Peter Magowan, Larry Baer, and a team of private investors, the Giants stayed in San Francisco—encouraging Crawford to pursue his dream of becoming one of them. The team’s new powers-that-be raised funds to build a brand-new ballpark. When AT&T Park opened in 2000, the names of the Crawfords, who contributed funds to help build it, were engraved on one of the stadium’s brick tiles.

Jalynne and Brandon
Jalynne and Brandon

Photo Credit: @jalynnecrawford on Instagram

The Watermark Year

Crawford first got serious about playing sports at Pleasanton’s Foothill High School, where he was a triple threat, playing football, basketball, and baseball. When he graduated in 2005, he was the starting quarterback for the football team. At UCLA, where he was a physiological sciences major, he played baseball from 2006 through 2008. In the 2008 MLB draft, the Giants selected him in the fourth round. For the next two years, Crawford played ball on various minor-league teams. Going into the 2011 season, he was ranked the sixth best prospect in the Giants organization.

The year 2011 marked not only his start as an MLB player, but also Crawford’s marriage to his college sweetheart, Jalynne Dantzscher, a former member of the UCLA gymnastics team. “We met at UCLA in September of 2005. It was maybe a week before classes started, and there was an athlete orientation where all the freshman athletes came to meet other athletes, meet our advisors, and basically learn about how to be a student athlete,” Crawford reminisces. “One of my teammates had already met Jalynne and her twin sister at a football game, and he introduced me when we saw them at the orientation. We were friends for a few months, hanging out at our dorms and sometimes stopping by each other’s practices. Then we started talking more and more and dating. Eleven years later and we’ve been married for five years and have three kids. We’ve always remained best friends.”

Crawford poses in a hot tub with his children
Crawford poses in a hot tub with his children

Photo Credit: @jalynnecrawford on Instagram

This is his life. The handsome long-haired, blue-eyed Crawford is a far cry from the old-fashioned stereotype of the womanizing ballplayer. He’s much more a family man who prefers to spend his downtime at home with Jalynne and their children: daughters Braylyn, 4, and Jaydyn, 3, and son Braxton, 1. A quick glance at his wife’s Instagram account perfectly illustrates Crawford’s enthusiasm for fatherhood. There he is on Christmas morning with Jalynne and the kids—all of them in red and green matching pajamas. There he is helping his daughter ride a pony, posing in a hot tub with the girls, at Disneyland, at the ballpark, in the snow. They put down roots in Scottsdale, Arizona; that way Crawford can spend an extra six weeks there with his family during Spring Training. “The best part of the spring season is that I get to come home every day. Other than the usually perfect weather we get down here during the winter, I think the best part of living in Scottsdale is that I get to stay at my house while everyone else has to find a place to rent. Baseball-wise, it’s nice to see all your teammates again and get started trying to win another World Series.”

During the off-season this year, the Crawfords left the kids at home and went on an African safari with three other couples. The trip helped Crawford put the disappointing end of the 2016 season behind him. After the team won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014, hopeful and loyal Giants fans were convinced the Giants could pull off another even-year title. But it was not to be. Although they made it to the playoffs, in the fourth game of the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs, the Giants gave up a three-run lead in the ninth inning to lose in a heartbreaker. For the Cubs, this was the largest ninth-inning comeback win in a postseason clinching game in baseball history. The entire city of San Francisco was shocked, and so were Crawford and his teammates. Still, life goes on. Crawford credits the stabilizing presence of a loving family with helping him through ups and downs like this in professional baseball. “The best part about having a family while playing baseball is that no matter how I did at the game that day, whether it was 4-4 with a homer or 0-4 with a couple strikeouts, they love me either way. They get so excited when I walk through the door and just love having me home. It makes you forget about baseball, which makes it that much easier to separate each game and take it one game at a time.”

Brandon Belt and Crawford
Brandon Belt and Crawford

Photo Credit: San Francisco Giants Facebook

Staying on Point

Taking it one game at a time is how Crawford stays focused during a grueling 162-game six-month season. “If you are able to wipe off the game from the night before, good or bad, and just try to play your best game that day, it will keep your focus on playing well every day, no matter how long the season is,” he explains. “Also, knowing that your teammates are counting on you to bring it every day, that helps motivate you and keep you focused on every game.”

Year in and year out, Crawford takes some of the edge off with lively baseball banter on the Brandon and Brandon blog that Crawford (aka “the cute one”) cowrites with fellow ballplayer Brandon Belt (aka “the funny one”). “It’s always fun to see our readers’ comments and the questions they have for us,” Crawford says. “It’s tough to keep [writing it] during the season, but we just try to get one in when we can. You can expect movie critiques from Belt, maybe…batting practice playlists from me, and definitely some behind-the-scenes…stuff from both of us.”

Before Crawford and Co. return to AT&T Park for the opener on April 13, he will appear in the World Baseball Classic alongside fellow Giants player Buster Posey. Both were invited to play on Team USA, and both say they’re eager to do their best. After that, it’s business as usual when the regular season kicks off.

14264859_10153818332521828_7538251050545412324_nPhoto Credit: San Francisco Giants Facebook

So what are the big goals driving Crawford this season? “For myself, [it’s] to stay healthy all year and do whatever I can to help the team win a World Series. For the team, [it’s] to win the World Series,” he says. Naturally the potential of such a win is intense motivation for players on one of the top five winningest teams in series history. The Giants, who have been around since 1883, first as the New York Giants until 1957, then from 1958 as the San Francisco Giants, have appeared 20 times in World Series since these contests began in 1903. They’ve notched up eight wins and 12 losses over that time (the winningest series team of all time is the New York Yankees, with 27 wins and 13 losses). SF fans were over the moon when the Giants scored their three unbelievable World Series victories every other year from 2010 to 2014, and Crawford played a part in the 2012 and 2014 wins.

With memories of those games and the 2016 miss still fresh in his mind, Crawford sounds hopeful about the 2017 season. “Something I’ll always remember about 2012 is [Marco] Scutaro’s game-winning hit in game 4 to drive in [Ryan] Theriot and win the series,” he says. “From 2014, I’ll always remember the double play that [Joe] Panik started and glove-flipped to me. It was a turning point in the game and arguably one of the best double plays ever in a World Series. The final outs of both of them were the best part for me, because [we had] just won the World Series. The excitement of all the hard work that you and your teammates put in all year finally coming to fruition is hard to even put into words.”

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