Evan Longoria: From Long Beach State Dirtbag to baseball superstar

By Amir Vafamanesh

If an athlete’s success is measured by achievement, then Long Beach State’s baseball program made the right decision when it picked a video-game cover athlete to be its keynote speaker for the 20th annual Leadoff Dinner.

Dirtbags head coach Troy Buckley said this year’s event was intended to “give a message back to [LBSU’s] current players about the story of how a marquee player got to where he’s at [today].”

And who better to share his experiences with the team this past Thursday than one of the biggest stars in professional baseball?

None other than ex-Dirtbag and Tampa Bay Rays All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria.

Though it may come as a surprise, Longoria, 25 — who appeared on the cover of Major League Baseball 2K10 — graduated from St. John Bosco High School with no college scholarship offers.

USC was the only program to consider him, but eventually backed out of recruiting him.

At 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, many baseball recruits felt Longoria was too slim by Division I baseball standards.

As a result, he attended Rio Hondo Community College during his freshman season before LBSU offered him a scholarship.

“You know, being close to home and allowing [my family] to watch me play every day was awesome,” Longoria said. “But I had seen so many great baseball players come out of Long Beach and that was the selling point for me.”

After all, The Beach has produced a number of major league stars — including Jason Giambi, Troy Tulowitzki and Jered Weaver, to name a few.

In just his second year with the Dirtbags, Longoria earned Big West Conference Player of the Year honors in 2006 after batting .353 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs.

In just two years, Longoria transformed his thin stature as a high school senior into a 6-foot-2, 210-pound specimen by the end of his LBSU tenure.

That same year, he was picked third overall in the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft — the highest draft selection in school history — by Tampa Bay, which gave him a $3 million signing bonus.

After a successful year in the minors, the Rays eventually signed him to a six-year, $17.5 million contract that can potentially earn him upwards of $44 million.

In just his first professional season with Tampa Bay, Longoria did more than just make good on his paycheck.

He went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2008 and was selected to the American League All-Star team.

Rise to prominence

Not to be mistaken for Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria, Evan had an unexpected run-in with his Hollywood namesake just prior to the All-Star Game.

The actress sent the Downey-native a bottle of champagne and a thank you note for “doing the Longoria name proud,” even though they aren’t related.

In return, Evan sent Eva three signed jerseys.

To top his rookie season off, the LBSU alumnus homered in his first two postseason at-bats and led the Rays to their first-ever World Series appearance. Longoria’s magical year ended when the Rays fell to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games in the best-of-seven World Series.

He matched his rookie season with another All-Star appearance in 2009 and earned the AL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards as the top fielder and hitter in the league at his position.

Managing his success off the field

But even after all the success, Longoria has maintained a humble outlook on his fame, and was quick to credit his family upbringing.

“I feel the same,” said Longoria, who was recently featured in TV commercials for Gillette and New Era caps. “I was raised pretty humble, I mean, I’ve got great friends and great family, and they’re able to keep me grounded.

“That’s what I kinda lean on when things get weird or different, or there’s something that I’m experiencing for the first time.”

In the zone

Handling fame off the field is one thing. But Longoria has also managed to maintain his composure at the plate against the best pitchers in the world.

“The game comes at a slow pace for him,” Buckley said. “He certainly went through his trials, but I think he knew that the [MLB stadium] surroundings weren’t going to affect how we was going to behave.

“‘He has what you call the ‘It Factor.'”

To put his prolific three-year career in the Majors into perspective, he has compiled a total of 82 home runs, 302 RBIs, and a .283 batting average.

But before the Longoria was making major league pitchers pay at the plate, he was just another solid high school baseball player — or, so Buckley thought.

Buckley, who was LBSU’s recruiting coordinator at the time, fondly remembered his first impression of Longoria at the Dirtbags baseball camp he attended while in high school.

It was nowhere near what Buckley expected. Longoria’s level of play exceeded his expectations, which the coach recalled in a light-hearted moment.

“It was my unawareness and ignorance if you will,” Buckley said in between laughs. “It’s a running joke that your best athlete, now, was playing first base at our camp to fill a position.

“When really, [Longoria] pitched, played short[stop], played third [base] and did all those things.”

Even after Longoria transferred to The Beach, it never occurred to Buckley or then-assistant coach Dan Barbara that they had a future All-Star on the program.

“I don’t think anybody — myself and Dan included — when they’re evaluating amateurs or young professionals, can predict stars,” Buckley said. “They can predict he’s gonna be a big leaguer or a solid player, but what Evan’s done — an All-Star — that’s phenomenal.”

Now entering his fourth season in the majors, Longoria hopes to win a World Series title in the near future, but cited other career goals as part of his main priorities, as well.

“My goal for last year and this year, and hopefully every year to come, is to just stay healthy,” Longoria said. “My preparation and the way I go about things kinda carries me through the year, but you know, it’s just all about staying healthy and being able to compete at a high level every day.”

Read more here: http://www.daily49er.com/sports/evan-longoria-from-long-beach-state-dirtbag-to-baseball-superstar-1.2453662
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