Last week I wrote about Chipper Jones and how he was my favorite player over the years while I was growing up. Chipper is still my all-time favorite, but since his retirement, I have had a new personal favorite that was in the making towards the end of Jones’ career. Although I like watching great players no matter what team they play for, Evan Longoria has been on the top of the list of who I watch SportsCenter highlights to see.
When the Tampa Bay Rays came into the league in 1998, they had a few marquee names over their first few years. I didn’t follow the team though since I was still a die hard Braves fan. Once the Rays started playing on Sun Sports on a nightly basis, they were the team I started watching. It didn’t hurt that the Rays were in the World Series in 2008 and have been competitive ever since. I don’t consider myself a bandwagon fan, but it was hard not to take notice of how good of a player Longoria was becoming.
I played third base in college and I naturally watched third basemen when I saw professional games. Thus, I was watching Longoria with a hawk eye trying to see how he played and to emulate things that he did on the field. One of the first times I got to see him play was actually in Atlanta. I was sitting behind third base of course and was ecstatic because every half inning I was getting to see my two favorite players. It was almost a passing of the torch in my eyes seeing Chipper and Longoria on the field together, a rare thing since interleague games rotate from year to year.
I didn’t follow Longoria until he got to the Major Leagues. Later, I found out he played college ball at Long Beach State in California. His teammate was Troy Tulowitzki. That was probably a great left side of the infield to watch then, and it would be even better now. With the amount of players drafted every year, I don’t particularly keep up with draft picks until they have established themselves in the Minors and in Longoria’s case until he was on the Rays’ Major League roster.
There was a baseball special a few years ago that highlighted Longoria and some of the things he does in practice and on game days. He was taking ground balls at third like most third basemen would, except he was on his knees and working on his glove work specifically. This caught my eye since you do not normally see players fielding like this. I went to the field the next day and did the same thing, and one of my coaches asked what I was doing. My reply was that if Evan Longoria does it, it must be beneficial. He didn’t think that was a sufficient answer and told me to get on my feet, but regardless it was a drill I continued to do from time to time.
Moving to Tampa a few years ago, I was ecstatic about being able to be close enough to Tropicana Field to watch the Rays more than a game a year. When I started going to the games, I of course was still watching Longoria the most. I compared myself more to Sean Rodriguez in terms of playing style, but I was a kid at heart and a still a fan when Longoria came to the plate. I don’t know if he has had the same walk out song since he came to the Big Leagues, but his song is “Down and Out” by Tantric. This has a great intro as well and always gets the crowd, including myself, pumped up for every Longoria at-bat.
I’ve had the fortune of seeing him hit a walk off home run as well. It wasn’t the iconic swing of Game 162 in 2011 in which he clinched a post season berth for the Rays after they defeated the Yankees. However, that kind of ending to a game is still breathtaking, even if it was against the San Diego Padres. The two –run shot came off of Huston Street in the bottom of the ninth inning, and that was something I’ll never forget. I make it to a few games each season, and the odds of seeing a walk off are rare. To see a walk off from Longoria was really a dream come true, and thankfully first base wasn’t open for the intentional walk.
Longoria a standout guy
Evan Longoria is a good team player, and just as good a person off the field as he is on it. He isn’t worried about his stats as long as the team wins and does not have trouble with other players or management. Being in Tampa, he would likely be traded if that was the case. The Rays are a light-hearted team that likes to have fun, and Longoria fits right in. It feels weird sometimes being a fan as I get older, but I get the same enjoyment out of watching Longoria as I did watching Chipper back when I was a kid.
Having adopted the Rays as my second favorite baseball team over the last few years, it is reassuring to know that Longoria will be the corner stone of the franchise for years to come. He recently signed a contract extension through the 2022 season, which was in addition to the four years he had left on his current contract. If he plays it out, and the Rays do not feel the need to trade him because of his salary, he will most likely finish out his playing career in Tampa. That would be icing on the cake for me as a fan to see a player of his caliber start and finish his career in one place.
Every position in the field has its superstars, and every team has its fan favorites. Evan Longoria is both of those things for the Rays. He is also one of the guys I love to watch on a nightly basis. I might have become a Rays fan because of Longoria, or I might have become a Longoria fan by watching the Rays, but either way, I will have a player to root for and pretend to be in whiffle ball for many years to come.