Evan Longoria not just the emerging face of the Rays

rmooney@bradenton.comJuly 14, 2009 

You want an Evan Longoria T-shirt? We got Evan Longoria T-shirts.

They say “Evan Almighty” and “Mrs. Longoria” and ask the question, “Got Longo? We do.”

Want something for the car? You can buy a pair of Evan Longoria fuzzy dice to hang from the rearview mirror.

Need something to keep the summer sun off your head? A ball cap with Longoria’s number “3” on the front in light blue for him or pink for her.

Something for that special someone? Evan Longoria earrings. They go nice with her “Let’s Go Longo” T-shirt.

Carl Crawford is the longest-tenured member of the Tampa Bay Rays, the one who bridged the gap from that awful 106-loss season in 2002 to last year’s climb to the World Series. He is a three-time All-Star, considered by many to be the best left fielder in baseball. Right now, Crawford is the best base stealer in the game. He makes the most money of any Ray.

But Crawford is not the face of the organization.

That face belongs to Longoria.

And Longoria is not just the face of the Rays. He is one of the new faces in Major League Baseball.

The Rays have never had a player like Longo. They never produced a Rookie of the Year until Longoria came along last season. They never had someone start an All-Star Game until Longo, who is the starting third baseman and one of five Rays on the American League squad in tonight’s game in St. Louis.

Even Crawford admits that Longo has that “it” factor. Of course, Longo is quick to add that you can find a lot of “it” in C.C., too.

Much of this has to do with timing.

Crawford was taken in the second round of the 1999 draft and was overshadowed by Josh Hamilton, who was the first overall pick. Even when Crawford reached the big leagues in 2002, he was still viewed as the super athlete who is still learning to play baseball.

Then came Rocco Baldelli, who shared the spotlight with Crawford. And then Scott Kazmir. Then B.J. Upton.

Playing for the worst baseball team in one of the worst baseball markets didn’t help Crawford’s image across the country.

Crawford told a story of being recognized in an airport, not for being the Rays’ All-Star left fielder, but for being the quarterback who gave up his scholarship to the University of Nebraska to play baseball.

Longoria was the third pick in the 2006 draft, and no sooner did the Rays pick Longoria than the questions began: When is Longo coming to Tropicana Field?

Longoria’s teammates were upset that March afternoon in 2008 when Longoria was sent back to Triple-A. They asked: If the front office was serious about winning, why wouldn’t they want one of their best players on the team?

A few weeks later, after Longoria was called up to replace an injured Willy Aybar, those same teammates voted Longoria the Rays’ player rep.

More than 9 million fans voted Longoria to the All-Star Game last July in the “Final Vote” campaign.

No player had received that many votes in the “Final Vote.”

This year, Longoria led all American League third basemen in votes, and for a few weeks even led New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter in total votes.

Longoria has been on the cover of ESPN the Magazine. He played in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. He received a bottle of champagne from Eva Longoria after making last year’s All-Star Game.

Crawford was pleased that he was voted to tonight’s All-Star Game by the players, his peers.

Longo was the choice of the fans. He was one of the players interviewed on the All-Star selection show.

His agent hints at national ad campaigns, so Longo’s face will appear everywhere.

He’s young, good looking and well-spoken. Why would you not want this guy pitching your product?

America discovered the Rays last season. By then the Rays had this kid playing third base who made the nightly highlights with his bat and his glove.

The Rays have never had a player receive this much attention from baseball fans across the country. Not many teams do.

Want another Evan Longoria T-shirt? How about this: “Chicks dig the Longo ball.”

Apparently, it’s not just the ladies who dig Longo.

It’s everyone.

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