Longoria Rises To Top

It took Evan Longoria just a few games in the big leagues to show his mettle. And at the tender age of 24, he’s probably the best third baseman in the majors, and is a strong candidate to win the American League Most Valuable Player trophy.

It became clear to everyone who saw the Southern California native, and St. John Bosco High graduate, that he was destined for stardom.

Taking no chances, Tampa Bay signed him to a long-term deal after less than a month in the majors.

With about 100 games left in this season, Longoria is batting .324 with 11 homers, 48 runs batted in, and 40 runs scored.

Following a sterling career at Long Beach State, the once-lowly Rays took Longoria No. 3 overall in the 2006 amateur draft, and he hasn’t looked back.

In 2008, his rookie season, Longoria was already a cornerstone, helping propel Tampa Bay into the World Series.

That the one-time awful Rays actually made the playoffs, and advanced to meet the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, was something only a Hollywood script writer would dare pen. The ending wasn’t Hollywood, as Tampa Bay lost in five games, but showed grit and determination.

A former laughingstock, the Rays played with a whole new attitude that continues until today. After a terrific start in 2008, many felt the Rays would disappear after the All-Star break.

Nothing of the sort happened, and the momentum continued into the playoffs, where Tampa Bay took out the Chicago White Sox in the AL Divisional Series, and then went seven tough games with the defending champion Boston Red Sox.

In the second round, Longoria cracked four homers, hit three doubles, drove in eight runs, while scoring eight runs. Along the way, he batted .333, had an .815 slugging percentage, and a .333 on-base percentage.

When Longoria faced the Phillies, he was out of sorts, batting .050. Whether he was trying to do too much, or the task at hand was too big, Longoria didn’t let it bother him during the 2009 season.

In 157 games, Longoria finished with a career-high 33 home runs, 113 RBIs, crossed the plate 100 times, and had a .526 slugging percentage.

In two-plus seasons, Longoria has hit 71 homers, driven in 246 runs, scored 207 runs, and is a career .286 hitter.

But don’t think of Longoria as merely a power-hitting third baseman on the order of Mike Schmidt or George Brett. An instinctive fielder with a strong throwing arm, Longoria can make every play required of the position. On a slow roller or chopper, he’s able to come in and charge the ball on the run. If the ball is hit to his right, he’s able to backhand it, and can range into the hole to his left, all the while getting the ball over to first base in a hurry.

More important, Longoria is earning the respect of his peers and the fans, having been selected to the All-Star game in each of his first two seasons, and is a lock to make it three straight.

The best is yet to come for Longoria and the Rays, who should continue this ride for years to come.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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