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Rays’ Longoria has sights set on that first ring


Published:   |   Updated: March 30, 2013 at 11:10 PM
PORT CHARLOTTE -

His baby girl is doing fine. So is the hamstring. So is the bank account.

Now what?

“The defining factor in most players’ careers is did they win a World Series or not?” Evan Longoria said.

Her name is Elle Leona Longoria. She’s 39 days old.

“She’s great,” Elle’s dad said. “She doesn’t really do a lot right now, but probably just looking at her, knowing that you created that, and that for the rest of her life, and yours, you’ll have that special connection.”

His name is Evan Michael Longoria. He’s 27 years old. He plays third base, slugger and centerpiece for the Rays. He’s a $100 Million Man, with a contract extension through 2023, the face of this franchise. A lot goes with that.

Consider what Longoria’s mother recently asked. Longoria smiled while thinking about it.

“My mom asked me, very candidly, ‘Does it make it harder to play now?’?” he said. “She asked me, ‘Are you more nervous now, now that you signed this contract, or is it easier for you?’?”

That’s from his mom.

Longoria laughed.

“I don’t feel any differently. I don’t feel that there’s more pressure on me. I always feel there’s more pressure on me for us to win. And that’s pressure I put on myself, to go out and produce to help the team win. The money doesn’t ever enter my mind when I think of how I’ll be perceived if we win or we don’t.”

Who’s more valuable to his baseball team than Longoria? Last season, that partial hamstring tear doomed a playoff lock. The Rays won 90 times, but those 85 games without Longoria, what would it have been like with him?

“I do believe the added stature with his new contract, he understands what his role is now and in the future,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s handled it very well. He embraces it. He doesn’t run away from it. I think he’s got a good bedside manner with it. It’s very helpful to a manager when you’ve got a guy within the organization — the long-term commitment, to have somebody to work with like that. … His whole goal is to win a World Series. It’s not about him.”

It’s a rare commodity in baseball, face of the franchise, particularly on a franchise where the door revolves. The Rays are betting on that surgically-repaired hamstring. Longoria is confident this team can win a championship. It’s not about the contract.

“The money, it can blow you away if you think about it,” Longoria said. “In reality, I was happy with the first contract, it gave me peace of mind. I knew my family, any future family, mom, dad, brothers and sisters, I could take care of them the rest of their lives. This deal was just icing on the cake. More important, it gives the chance to stay my whole career in Tampa.”

It’s about staying on the field in 2013, DH, the odd rest day, anything.

“Like we talked about the beginning of the spring, whatever I have to do to be on the field as much as I can, I’m going to do whatever they want me to do,” Longoria said. “That’s easy. The bitter pill to swallow is if you’re not on the field, if you’re not healthy. If I can avoid that, at all costs, I’ll do whatever it takes. Last season was tough, very tough.”

“To have him play on a more consistent basis really makes any manager smarter,” Maddon said.

So would him playing here until he retires. There’s no real guarantee of that, contract or no. But Longoria loves the concept of Here to Stay.

“It was always important to want to be that guy,” he said. “There aren’t many of those. Really, the only guy that came to mind was Derek Jeter, as far as being with one organization, and guys like Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada.”

He’s the $100 Million Man. He’s a father. He’s the Rays’ big daddy, too. Now the rings are the things. Longoria thought of former teammate Eric Hinske, who was part of the Rays’ 2008 AL pennant winner, Longoria’s rookie season.

“He’s one of three or four guys to win a World Series with New York and Boston,” Longoria said. “Those are the things that carry a guy’s legacy further than any personal statistic. It solidifies a legacy.”

Legacies matter. Family matters more.

“It’s changed me,” Evan Longoria said of the birth of his daughter. “There’s definitely perspective — all of a sudden, you get this instinctual protective nature. It’s a different level of alertness. You’re always wondering: Is she OK? There’s somebody else to care about. It’s awesome. It’s great. It’s the circle of life.”

And then there’s Opening Day.

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