Trevor Crowe was a little tired during our early-morning phone conversation. Who wouldn't be after participating in "Dancing with the 'Stros" competition the night before?
"I didn't win it," the Houston outfielder says. "I probably came in near the bottom. I know I finished in the top five, because there were only five of us."
The Westview High grad was among five Astros players participating on an off night in a charity event based on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" show. Does he consider himself smooth on the dance floor?
"Depends on how much alcohol I've had, and who the judges are," Crowe says.
How much alcohol had he consumed?
"Not enough to be good," he laughs.
It was a rare break from baseball recently for Crowe, who has been in Houston's starting lineup every game since his Sept. 1 call-up from Triple AAA Oklahoma City and has batted in the three-hole every game since Sept. 2. After going 1 for 4 in the Astros' 6-1 loss to Cincinnati Monday night, Crowe is hitting .297 (19 for 64) this month.
"It's been fun to have this kind of opportunity," says Crowe, who turns 30 in November. "I'm trying to make the most of it."
It's the first time Crowe has been healthy since after the 2010 season, when the 5-10, 190-pound switch-hitter underwent elbow surgery while with the Cleveland Indians. Before the 2011 campaign, Crowe had additional surgery on his right shoulder and bicep that kept him out until Sept. 2011.
He returned the last month of the season, only to fracture his left shoulder diving to make a catch against Minnesota.
"A freak play," he says. "I dove, the ground gave out and I landed awkwardly."
After rehabbing through the offseason, Crowe had a great spring training in 2012 -- "couldn't have asked to play better," he says -- but began the season with Cleveland's AAA club in Columbus. Crowe asked for and got his release in July and was immediately signed by the Los Angeles Angels, finishing the year with their Salt Lake City Triple-A affiliate.
Signed by Houston in the offseason, Crowe began this season at Oklahoma City and was called up by Houston in May. On June 19, though, he separated a shoulder and sprained an AC joint running into the wall trying to make a catch against Milwaukee. Crowe sat out for five weeks, then returned to OKC, ending up hitting .303 with 16 stolen bases in 62 games in his two stints with the RedHawks before earning his most recent call-up by the Astros.
Crowe had seven multi-hit games in his first 11 outings with Houston this month, the result, he says, of a discussion with Astros hitting coach John Mallee prior to his June injury.
"I was hitting about .180 at the time," Crowe recalls. "He came to me and said, 'You're getting a little too far back when you load, and that's causing you to stride forward. Your head moves and your hands aren't able to work.'
"Since I made an adjustment, it's been like light and day with my consistency at the plate."
After spending large parts of the 2009 and '10 seasons with Cleveland, Crowe -- the 2005 Pac-10 Co-Player of the Year at Arizona with Oregon State's Jacoby Ellsbury -- was convinced he had what it takes to stay in the big leagues.
"I felt like, if I'm healthy, I can play at this level and have a pretty big impact," he says. "Baseball is a funny game. It doesn't work out on your time frame like you want it to, but it seems like it has a way of working itself out in the end."
Crowe hopes that's what is happening now. Houston will own his rights after the season and his contract will go to salary arbitration. Then it's a matter of whether the Astros -- who have a major league-low $21 million in payroll -- want to pay to keep him.
"A lot of it will depend on how I finish up the last couple of weeks in the season, because of my history of injuries," he says. "I want to be back next year. I think I'll be back, but we'll see it goes."
In no small part to its stinginess of pocketbook, Houston owns the majors' worst record at 51-99. Crowe thinks that is about to change.
"The amount of young talent on this team and in this organization is pretty impressive," he says. "Some guys have to get their feet wet at the big-league level, but in terms of overall raw talent, it's really unbelievable. There are better days ahead."
Crowe mentions All-Star catcher Jason Castro, 26, and shortstops Jose Albuve and Jonathan Villar. And he points to 23-year-old center fielder George Springer, who hit 40 home runs and stole 47 bases in 140 Double-A and Triple-A games in the Houston chain this season.
"George and (former Indians center fielder) Grady Sizemore are the two best talents I've ever played with," Crowe says. Springer "is going to be a star."
Crowe makes his offseason home in Scottsdale, Ariz., but gets to Portland at least twice a year to visit parents Dave and Terryl, who still live here. He laughs when I tell him it seems like yesterday that I watched him playing shortstop at Westview.
"It's crazy," he says. "I'm almost 30. My girlfriend was giving me crap, telling me it's a huge birthday for me. I'm thinking, 'I feel like I'm still so young, but I guess I'm getting up there.' "
If Crowe can make it through the last two weeks of the season unscathed, he'll have his first offseason out of rehab since 2010.
"I'm healthy," he says. "I feel like I really do have a lot of good years left. Every year I've learned more about the game and gotten better. I'll have an offseason to get in great shape, get strong, put some extra weight on and be in a really good spot for next year."
The baseball gods owe him that much.