Brandon Crawford and Giants supermom Lynn talk baseball, teachable moments and what it would take for the shortstop to cut his hair.
Humble and soft-spoken aren’t generally words that come to mind when talking about today’s professional athletes. But that’s exactly what you get when you sit down with San Francisco Giant Brandon Crawford. And if you wonder where he gets his down-to-earth attitude, look no further than his mom, Lynn, a fifth-grade teacher at Vintage Hills Elementary School in nearby Pleasanton.
In keeping with this month’s education theme, I thought it would be fun to sit down with the mother and son. Along with husband Mike, Lynn nurtured Brandon’s love of baseball and his desire to be good and do good for others. Most notably, for the last few years, Brandon has partnered with Wells Fargo and KNBR in their Step Up to the Plate for Education program, which provides grants to local schools.
On a recent afternoon, we met in the press room of an empty AT&T Park, just hours before tens of thousands of fans began arriving for the evening game. No pregame jitters for these two pros—just a casual conversation about working hard, living well and what it takes to make it in the big leagues.
You grew up in the Bay Area, you’re a lifelong Giants fan, you have a contract here through 2021. Do you wake up in the morning and pinch yourself?
Brandon: I think I did for a while, but I’ve gotten a little used to it, I guess. When I was originally drafted by the Giants, it was like…big league. Everything else after that was just icing on the cake.
Is it true that at the age of five, Brandon said he was going to be a shortstop for the Giants?
Lynn: So, the real story is, when he was five and playing Tee-ball, the coaches—my husband was one of them—said, “Write down something we should know about you.” Brandon wrote, “I’m going to play in the MLB when I grow up.” It was when he was seven, that he told his coaches he was going to play shortstop for the Giants and his friend, Matt, who played first base was going to be Will Clark and he was going to be Royce Clayton.
So, was there a moment when you watched young Brandon play and you thought, You know, this kid might actually have what it takes to be a Major Leaguer?
Lynn Crawford: Don’t all parents think that?
Yeah, but most of us are wrong!
Brandon Crawford: [Looking at Lynn] Well, when I was seven years old, you didn’t think that.Lynn: No, I don’t think it sunk in that he was exceptionally good until maybe high school, especially when college coaches would start calling him right before his senior year and the phone was ringing off the hook. Of course, he wasn’t home, he was off playing travel ball. That’s when it sunk in, like, “Wow, he’s one of the best.”
You played college ball at UCLA, my alma mater. How did that experience prepare you for the big leagues?
Brandon: I grew up there, matured a little bit more. If I had been drafted straight out of high school and had to play professional baseball right away, I don’t think I would have been ready for it.
A lot of kids grow up and dream of being professional athletes, but most kids don’t realize that dream. Lynn, what character traits does Brandon have that make him so successful?
Lynn: He gave more than everybody else. He didn’t just go to practice and go to games. He worked on speed and agility, he went to extra batting practice, he was always practicing. … People may have had natural talents that were better than his but, at a certain point, he got better because he just did more.
So, it was his work ethic…
Lynn: Yes, it was his work ethic and he’s gifted physically and he’s really, really smart. He always studied the game. My husband was good about teaching him the fundamentals and the history of the game and Brandon soaked it all up. He went to [Giants] spring trainings and then games at Candlestick. … He was a gifted child and would remember everything just being told once or twice. At a young age he could talk baseball with adults easily. … Also, school was easy, but going to play Major League Baseball—or being drafted—out of high school was not an option in our family. You go to college.
Brandon, why do you think you’re a success?
Brandon: I think a lot of those reasons. I work harder, but then the drive is there. At an early age that’s what I wanted to do—play baseball, Major League Baseball, but specifically for the Giants… It wasn’t that hard to work hard… I didn’t know it would work out quite this well.
One thing I’ve always wondered… When you’re standing up to bat in front of 40,000 people, what are you thinking about?
Brandon: I’m not thinking about 40,000 people, that’s for sure! I mean, it depends on the situation, depends on the pitcher, maybe what pitch the guy might throw in a certain situation. After that, I just try to hit the ball hard.
And when there’s two outs, it’s the last inning, one more out means you’re World Champions, what are you thinking then?
Brandon: You try to calm yourself down as much as possible, because in that situation you can get too anxious or nervous. You just try to calm down and remember you still need to get that last out and not put too much pressure on it.
Lynn: I have to say, that’s a real strength of his: to be in a position where there’s lots of pressure—whether it was quarterback of the football team [Crawford started for his high school team, the Foothill Falcons in Pleasanton] or being in that kind of situation in baseball—he has that ability to just be that same calm person. He grew up with two sisters, so staying calm…
You’ve had so many great highlights in your career, Brandon, from Gold Glove winner to two World Championship rings to bragging rights as the first shortstop to hit a grand slam in a postseason game. What do you consider your biggest professional accomplishment?
Brandon: The World Series. Winning the World Series. Because you put in all that work in the off-season just to get to spring training, and you go through the grind of a long season—and with all the guys in the clubhouse, the ups and downs. You eventually accomplish what you had set out to accomplish. It’s such a great feeling.
This season has been tough. What motivates you, keeps you fighting?
Brandon: You have to think about it as an athlete—you still have the whole second half to go, and you have all that time to make up a little ground and play your best for the rest of the year. At a team meeting one time, one of the guys said, “You don’t want to just cash in the rest of the season. At the end of your career, you’re looking at the back of your baseball card with your son and it’s like, What happened that year?” You want to play well for your family, for yourself, for the team, for the fans.
Baseball players—and fans—are notoriously superstitious. Do you have any pregame rituals?
Brandon: I really don’t. But there are routines—I’ll go down to the cage and do a couple of drills before the game, but there’s like nothing I eat before every game or anything.
What about you, Lynn?
Lynn: All I do every time is pray for players on both teams, that nobody gets hurt. During the National Anthem, that’s me. I’m praying for them.
Speaking of players on other teams, your son-in-law, Gerrit Cole, is a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lynn, I read that when Brandon bats against Gerrit, you root for Brandon. Does that make for some awkward family dinners?
Lynn: He’s my son. But if Gerrit has a no-hitter going, we will give him that.
What about you Brandon?
Brandon: I’m trying to get a hit. He’s gotten me out enough.
What about Brandon makes you most proud?
Lynn: That he’s just a good person. He’s got a lot of integrity. He’s true to himself, he’s not easily influenced by other people, so his whole life it’s just been, He is who he is. I hear stories all the time about him signing [autographs] for people…it’s all these nice things he does. It’s just like the Gold Glover who goes by the Golden Rule. He does for others.
Love that for a headline, The Gold Glover who goes by the Golden Rule! Brandon, what’s something not-so-great about playing pro baseball?
Brandon: I’m somebody who stays pretty much to myself, and my family time is precious to me, so when I go out to dinner and people ask for pictures or autographs—that’s the worst part. I try to be as polite as I can.
Do you say, “Catch me after dessert.”
Brandon: Yeah, when I’m all done or outside—no problem. So that’s the part to me that’s hard. I don’t like being the center of attention or in the spotlight, so those are the worst parts, but there aren’t many bad parts.
Lynn: His weakness was always talking in front of people. So when he started doing interviews, it was horrifying how hard that was for him. But he’s much better now. So, practice.
Brandon, while at UCLA, you met your wife, Jalynne, who was a gymnast. You have three young children. If they showed interest, would you steer them toward professional sports?
Brandon: I would steer them toward it. Even if they decide they don’t want to [play professional sports] later on, that’s completely up to them. But I think sports as a kid is great for making friends, for leadership qualities and work ethic. It’s great for them to be a part of team sports and work together for the good. Braxton, my one-and-a-half-year-old boy, is already always swinging a bat or has a ball in his hand.
Speaking of kids, are your students all big Giants fans?
Lynn: I don’t treat them any differently if they’re not.
Do they ever ask your advice on how to become a pro like Brandon?
Lynn: It’s funny. Not only do the children ask advice, but the parents ask advice. I always say, “What’s your dream? I don’t care what your dream is, but what are you going to do to make it happen? What kind of effort are you going to put in as a parent or as a child?”
So, last question. The Gazette is all about philanthropy, at what price and for what charity would you allow your mom to cut your hair?
Lynn: Wow, I like it!
Brandon: She’s cut my hair before…
In his sleep?
Lynn: No, not in his sleep, but a long time ago.
Brandon: In high school. I used to buzz my hair and it was terrible.
All right, do you have a price and a charity?
Brandon: I’ll think about it. It depends how much of my hair. Who’s paying for it?