ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Evan Longoria stood in the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse, graciously answering questions about some of the perks of celebrity and how he would like to be remembered when his playing days are over.
That's the life of an up and coming star.
The 23-year-old third baseman was an instant hit in 2008, signing a contract potentially worth $44 million after beginning the season in the minor leagues and then playing a major role in the team's improbable run to the World Series.
He was an AL All-Star, the league's rookie of the year and perhaps became the most recognizable face on a team loaded with young rising stars.
He is one of the reasons the Rays feel they have what it take to repeat as AL champions.
"I definitely think I can repeat what I did last year, if not better. I like to set realistic goals for myself, not outrageous ones," said Longoria, who batted .272 with 27 homers, 31 doubles and 85 RBIs in 122 games.
"If I had 15 more years like I had last year, I'd be very, very happy with that. ... Those are pretty solid numbers, but I definitely think with a lot of hard work I can be a better player than I was last year, and hopefully, continue to raise the bar every year."
Life off the field is sweet, too.
Longoria, the third pick in the 2006 June draft out of Long Beach State, returned home to Southern California, where he was invited to participate in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic golf tournament.
He teamed with actor Jeffrey Donovan to tie for 16th among a 128-team field, but that wasn't the biggest thrill of the week.
"I met Bo Jackson. ... He played in front of me for two days straight. He's funny. Bo knows. It was pretty cool," Longoria said. "I introduced myself. I said, 'Hello, Mr. Jackson.' He called me Mr. Longoria back. I thought it was pretty cool that he knew who I was."
Coming off the kind of year he and the Rays had, that shouldn't have been a surprise.
Longoria also hit a few parties during Super Bowl week in Tampa, though he opted to watch the game on television.
"That was one scene I didn't want to be a part of," he said. "I just relaxed and got to watch the whole game."
There have been some difficult times, too.
Longoria got off to a slow start at the plate after being called up from Triple-A Durham last April and then later went 1-for-20 in the World Series as the Rays lost to the Phillies in five games.
"I was living a dream pretty much from the playoffs on. It wasn't like I was so high that I thought I was untouchable, that wasn't the case. But it definitely brought me back into reality quickly of how this game can humble you in a heartbeat," he said.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said what's more important is how a player rebounds from disappointment. Longoria has a pretty good track record.
"The guys who have never really struggled, you really hold your breath on sometimes," he said. "What's going to happen when they go through that first moment?"
When Longoria thinks about how he wants to carry himself and be remembered, Yankees captain Derek Jeter comes to mind.
"I think the reason I'd love to mold myself after him is that for 13 years, or however long he's played, he's kept his nose clean, what he says is always right on point," he said.
"He stays out of the controversy, he says the right things. That's one of the things I'd like to do in my career, have the same kind of aura about me. ... He's kind of the All-American baseball player. He's the standard for everybody in our era."
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