Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria visited the Pinellas Park Library on Wednesday to kick off "Reading with the Rays: Read Your Way to the Ballpark." Longoria read Bats in My Attic by Sydnie Meltzer Kleinhenz and Rick Stromoski and If I were a Jungle Animal by Amanda and Tom Ellery aloud to a captive audience of children.
In between the readings, prizes were handed out to those who answered Longoria's trivia questions correctly. One question the star asked: "What's my middle name?" The answer: Michael.
With baseball season and summer in full swing, the Tampa Bay Times Newspaper in Education department has partnered with the Rays and the libraries in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties for Reading with the Rays.
The program aims to encourage children to read more this summer and to visit the library regularly before returning to school in the fall. By reading books this summer, students in grades three through five in the participating counties can circle the bases on a game card — first, second, third and home — and collect prizes as they go. If they make it all the way around to home, their reward is a ticket to see the Rays at Tropicana Field in July, August or September.
Longoria said he's enthusiastic about the program because he regrets not having read more as a child.
"There are some guys on the team, namely Sam Fuld, who I'm kind of envious of because I know he did his summer reading," he said. "And now he's much better than me at the crossword puzzle."
Longoria wants children to understand that although reading may seem tedious to them, it's important for their future.
"I'm very envious of those people who can sit down and read a book from cover to cover," he said. "I love going to the movies but everybody that reads books always says books are always so much better."