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Tuesday June 18, 2013 Crawford has experienced life of a first-rounder past two weeks

Jonathon Crawford

Former Gators right-hander Jonathon Crawford is now a Connecticut Tiger.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – One of the lasting images I have of Jonathon Crawford as a Gator – besides that no-hitter he tossed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament – came during the flight home from the Bloomington (Ind.) Regional earlier this month.

Crawford was just another college kid that night dressed in team-issued khakis and a polo shirt, napping most of the flight home in the aisle across from where I sat. Before taking off he huddled with a few others to watch the UF softball team’s epic game against Nebraska in the College World Series.

He woke when we landed in Gainesville and to everyone’s surprise, the softball game was still on, so Crawford watched it on a fellow traveler’s iPhone as we waited to exit the plane. He then grabbed his bags and boarded the team bus for the ride back to campus with his teammates.

I remember wondering if Crawford, projected to go high in the draft, had any idea what the next few days were going to be like.

That was June 1.

In the 17 days since, Crawford’s life has moved faster than his 95-mph fastball.

Five days after making his final start for the Gators on May 31, the junior right-hander from Okeechobee was at home when the Tigers called to say they planned to draft him with the No. 20 overall pick in the first round of the MLB First-Year Players Draft.

As a first-round draft pick, Crawford was guaranteed to become a millionaire if he inked a deal. He did so Friday, signing a contract that paid him a bonus of just more than $2 million according to Baseball America.

Crawford signed the contract at home in Okeechobee on Friday, traveled to Detroit’s spring training home in Lakeland for a physical Saturday morning, and then boarded a flight for Norwich, Conn., Saturday afternoon.

He worked out with his new teammates on the Connecticut Tigers, Detroit’s low-A team in the New York-Penn League, later that day.

That is what you call first-round treatment.

“It’s about time we get a first-round pick,’’ Connecticut manager Andrew Graham told the Norwich Bulletin. “I’m looking forward to seeing Crawford in action.”

Norwich opened the season Monday night against the Lowell (Mass.) Spinners, the same New York-Penn League team three of Crawford’s former UF teammates – Austin Maddox, Greg Larson and Brian Johnson – began their professional careers with a year ago.

That is life for a college player turned pro. One week you’re in Omaha, the next week in Oneonta.

Crawford can expect to make his first appearance soon for the Tigers, who face Lowell again Tuesday night. While Crawford’s past two weeks have been life altering, the real work is just beginning.

The Tigers drafted him hoping one day that he will call Comerica Park home, maybe even take over as the team’s ace and develop into the next Justin Verlander.

That’s a lofty goal Crawford can at least dream about during sleepy bus rides in the minors. For now, he is busy playing for his new team and learning how to be a professional.

If he needs any advice from Verlander, maybe he can ask one of his new teammates for his number: outfielder Ben Verlander, Justin’s younger brother.

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