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Rays

Happy, healthy Longoria excited for spring training

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Published:   |   Updated: February 18, 2014 at 06:35 AM

PORT CHARLOTTE – One of the first people Evan Longoria saw Monday morning when he arrived at the clubhouse at Charlotte Sports Park was Andrew Friedman, which was perfect, because Longoria had something he wanted to say to the Tampa Bay Rays executive vice president of baseball operations.

Congrats.

“I thought that from the outside looking in, he did probably one of his finest jobs with this team, the acquisitions that we’ve made, and the people that we were able to keep around,” Longoria said.

Congrats for not trading David Price and for re-signing James Loney and for signing Grant Balfour and trading for Ryan Hanigan and on and on and on.

“I’m really happy with the way that things look right now,” Longoria said, “and I’m excited to see how they shape up come the end of spring training.”

The question surrounding Longoria when he reported last spring was the health of his left hamstring. The third baseman wasn’t sure how it would hold up over the course of the regular season.

There also was the matter of becoming a first-time father, which he did early in camp with the birth of his daughter.

This year there is far less drama surrounding Longoria.

His hamstring held up just fine in 2013. He did develop plantar fasciitis in his right foot, but managed to play a career-high 160 games and hit 32 home runs, which was one shy of his career-high.

Elle turns 1 on Thursday, and Longoria is now engaged to her mother, Jaime Edmondson. His Tampa restaurant, Ducky’s, opened in December and is doing well.

Friedman assembled a team that many inside the clubhouse think has the goods to reach the World Series.

And yet, Longoria said he enters camp this spring with a burden he feels grows heavier each February.

“It seems like every year gets a little bit tougher, believe it or not,” he said. “Not physically and not from a performance standpoint. But because I do feel a little more weight every year, because I am a veteran.”

Longoria is the leader in the clubhouse. The rest of the team takes its cues from him.

Add that to being the big bat in the lineup, and you have a guy who feels the weight of responsibility.

“It’s never bad, but I feel like every year I have a little bit more responsibility to do certain things and to kind of weigh in on things that I wouldn’t have in the past,” Longoria said. “They’re good expectations. It’s not that I don’t have peace of mind, but I just feel a little more responsible every year.”

Longoria read the book, “Leaders Eat Last,” which manager Joe Maddon has adopted as the 2014 team slogan.

“One of the main focuses of the book is that human beings want to be around people who believe what they believe, and when you are, good things can happen,” Longoria said. “When you’re with a group and you know everybody around you is all rowing in the same direction and wants the same things and you’re not scared to leave those people to make decisions for themselves and be human beings and be leaders in their own right, then you’re better.”

Maddon appreciates Longoria’s willingness to step forward and be a leader, because not every player wants that or is capable of that responsibility.

“But he definitely understands his place in the game and his place with us, and thus he does not shy away from those moments,” Maddon said. “We, as a group, regarding management, really appreciate that because it makes our jobs easier.”

As for on the field goals, Longoria said he will like to improve his batting average with runners on base and eliminate the prolonged slumps he endured last season.

Maddon said he expects Longoria’s offensive numbers to improve if only because Longoria works so hard at his craft.

“It’s hard for him to get any better when it matters,” Maddon said. “He’s always been there for us in those moments. I think a guy getting to his prime or in his prime right now with all the experience that he’s got under his belt right now, this knowledge to call upon and as driven as he is, I think you’re going to see constant upticks in that area.”

rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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