Rays 3B Evan Longoria delights crowd at Bradenton’s Downtown Central Library

With Father’s Day fast approaching, Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria chose a special book to read Friday morning to a packed crowd at the Downtown Central Library.

“Everybody at some point has a dad. Believe me, that’s how it works,” Longoria said, to laughs from the adults in the room.

One book was, “Every Friday,” by Dan Yaccarino about a father and son who trek every Friday morning into the city to a special diner to share breakfast. During his visit, Longoria also read “Baseball in the Bedroom” and “My Pop Pop and Me” to some of the youngest readers — and Rays fans — in Bradenton.

Friday marked Longoria’s second trip to the Downtown Central Library in two years as part of the Reading With the Rays summer reading program, which encourages and rewards young children to read during the summer. Top prize is two free tickets to a Rays game.

Suncoast Credit Union partners with the Rays on the initiative. Children can move around the bases by logging reading hours. Once a child reaches enough hours, an adult initials the card redeemable at any Manatee County library. Prizes grow larger as the children log more hours.

Longoria said rewarding reading at a young age can help nudge children into reading for fun, and inspire them to read on their own, even without prizes.

“You kind of have to show them the way,” he said.

Between books, Longoria quizzed students on baseball facts and gave out prizes for student who knew the correct answers. He also turned the tables and asked the students to quiz him. Nine-year-old Daniela DePina was awarded a signed baseball by Longoria for having the best question. She asked Longoria to explain the history of the Rays.

DePina was one of many who crowded into the library, drawn by a love of baseball and by a love of reading.

Ewelina McCallister, a Bradenton resident, came with her two sons, 4-year-old Liam and 2-year-old Oliver. Although they couldn’t quite grasp who Longoria is, the boys like to play baseball, and McCallister said they visit the library often.

“We come every week and we read to the boys every night,” she said. Liam is already starting to recognize some words. “They love listening to stories.”

The Kesten family was drawn by Longoria. Lynn Kesten, a Bradenton resident, brought 11-year-old Hannah and her two younger children. Grandma Sue Brock, a huge Rays fan, came along, too. As a teacher, Brock said she incorporates the Rays and baseball as decorations in her classroom.

“I have a Rays bulletin board,” she said.

Her classroom motto is “team spirit, individual excellence.”

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney

From the mouths of babes

During the session, Longoria answered a number of children’s question. Below are some answers to the questions, which ranged from how old Longoria is to how long he’s played baseball:

  • Longoria has hit 16 home runs this year.
  • Mike Trout is his favorite player.
  • Longoria recently finished reading “The Girl on the Train,” which he cautioned might not be appropriate for children.
  • Longoria is 30 year’s old. “I’m old now,” he said.
  • The Rays are the only professional baseball team for which Longoria has played. He recently became the longest-tenured Rays player ever.