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Kevin Gray's On Baseball: Crawford, Ellbury could visit NH

The golden ticket for the 2012 Fisher Cats season is marked &#';July 4.&#';

If the Portland Sea Dogs and postgame fireworks wasn&#';t enough entertainment, Double-A New Hampshire could be hosting Carl Crawford and possibly Jacoby Ellsbury during a three-game set beginning Wednesday at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. Crawford reported to Portland Monday and will make a rehab start tonight at Hadlock Field against Trenton, then likely join the Sea Dogs on their trip to The 603.

Ellsbury, who homered in the Gulf Coast League on Monday, may also be suiting up for the Sea Dogs this week. Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine told reporters on the West Coast that Ellsbury may be joining Portland for his next rehab stint.

Crawford (wrist, elbow) and Ellsbury (shoulder) have made significant steps on their season-long comebacks. A stop at the lush Fisher Cats ballpark — where the Red Sox have sent John Smoltz, Jed Lowrie and Daisuke Matsuzaka for rehab assignments — is the next logical step for the All-Star outfielders.

This week&#';s Fisher Cats-Sea Dogs series may feature another Red Sox outfielder: Ryan Sweeney. The Boston Globe reported Monday night that Sweeney (left big toe injury) is expected to play a rehab game Thursday. Imagine a Portland outfield consisting of Crawford, Ellsbury and Sweeney?

The Red Sox, however, have not confirmed reports of the outfielders playing at New Hampshire. Fisher Cats president Rick Brenner and members of the front office offered no comment. That didn&#';t stop media outlets and Twitter-happy fans from fueling Monday&#';s buzz-worthy story. By 4:30 p.m., radio broadcasters on WGAM The Game in Nashua were giving away &#';tickets to see Crawford and Ellsbury&#'; in Manchester week.

Will it happen?

&#';We&#';re taking it day to day with both guys,&#'; Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said via email Monday night.

There&#';s a good chance of Crawford staying with the Sea Dogs for more than one game to work on timing and test the resiliency of his surgically repaired left wrist. Position players tend to spend more than one day with a minor-league affiliate on these types of assignments. The 30-year-old recently played in five games for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox, going 3-for-14 under the Florida sun.

Ellsbury officially has yet to be assigned to Portland. Cherington said Ellsbury will spend today with the GCL Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla., before a decision on his next stop is finalized.

The Pawtucket Red Sox, if you&#';re wondering, hit the road Wednesday for a three-game stop in Rochester, N.Y. Makes more sense to have Crawford and Ellsbury suit up for the Sea Dogs on a 94-mile trip to Manchester.

We do know the Red Sox have a history of sending their major leaguers to New Hampshire for a big-league tune up. Players and executives within the Red Sox organization have praised the Fisher Cats through the years, commenting on the big-league-like playing surface and amenities at the park. Future Hall of Famer Smoltz, making a rehab appearance for the Red Sox in 2009, pitched before a record crowd of 8,903 fans in Manchester. Later that season, Matsuzaka and Lowrie made stops in Manchester while playing for the Sea Dogs.

It&#';s already been quite a week to follow the Eastern League. The Fisher Cats are preparing for a six-day, seven-game homestand, including a doubleheader against New Britain on Sunday. Appearances by Crawford and Ellsbury could help the team break a homestand attendance record (39,725) for six openings.

A huge crowd was already expected for the Fourth of July festivities at the Delta Dental diamond. In addition to the baseball fun, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will naturalize 10 candidates during a special ceremony before the game. Natives of Brazil, China, Dominican Republic, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, South Korea and United Kingdom will be naturalized as part of the Independence Day celebration.

Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is kgray@unionleader.com

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