ST. PETERSBURG — In a family room inside a house in the Tyrone area of St. Petersburg, a couch is pushed up against one wall.
If you lift the cushions, right in the middle you’ll see a large dark stain. It got there at exactly 12:05 a.m. on Sept. 29, 2011.
At that precise moment, just a few miles away from that couch, Evan Longoria ripped a pitch down the leftfield line and over the short wall at Tropicana Field to put the Rays into the playoffs. Just as the ball sailed over the fence, a 14-year-old kid named Andy, wide-eyed and screaming and not believing what he had just seen, jumped into the air and sent a full glass of chocolate milk into the cushions of the couch where he had been sitting.
This is the same young man who got an official Longoria jersey when was he was 11 to celebrate Longoria’s arrival in 2008. And the same young man who grew out of that jersey and replaced it with a bigger No. 3 jersey that is on a hanger in a room where a Longoria poster used to be.
And the same young man who yelled "Noooooooooo!’’ on Wednesday when I told him that Longoria had been traded. It’s a father’s duty to deliver such awful news to his son.
Every Rays fan remembers exactly where they were when Longoria hit the Rays into the playoffs, whether they were going crazy in the Trop, high-fiving strangers in a bar or spilling chocolate milk all over the place.
And every Rays fan had that same bitter, dispirited reaction when finding out that Longoria had been traded.
Who doesn’t like Longoria? If you’re a Rays fan, this is the worst thing that has ever happened.
Have there ever been two sadder words in Tampa Bay sports history?
It’s the end of an era.
And the beginning of who knows what?
It’s hard to even think about new beginnings, and tomorrow, and next season, and the season after that.
Because this news just stinks. Even the Rays have to admit it.
"It’s a difficult day,’’ said Rays president Matt Silverman. "It’s a hard day to say goodbye to Evan.’’
Goodbye to Evan. Say it ain’t so.
We all knew this was coming. But it still hurts Tampa Bay like a punch to the gut.
It doesn’t matter what the Rays are getting in return. It doesn’t matter if the trade might make sense and the Rays might end up better off in the long run. No one wants to hear about finances and rebuilding and prospects and futures.
None of that matters today. Today is about wanting to kick over a trash can and swear you’re never going to watch baseball again. We are saying a tearful goodbye to the greatest player the Rays have ever had.
"Because of how much Evan means to our franchise and how we’ve grown with him over the past decade … there were many tugs on the heartstrings,’’ Silverman said. "This one is certainly the most difficult (decision) we’ve had to make. Evan is the face of our franchise. He’s the one we associate most closely with the Rays franchise.’’
For the past decade, Rays fans haven’t been able to count on much. But they have been able to count on moving to the edge of their seats every time they heard the opening notes to Tantric’s Down & Out.
That meant Longo was up and the world stopped for a few moments. They’ve been able to count on seeing Longoria’s name in the middle of the order. They’ve been able to look down and see Longoria vacuuming every ball hit down to third base.
"Ten years is a lot of memories,’’ Longoria said.
Tampa Bay loves him. He was ours.
And he loves Tampa Bay. That’s the best part. He wanted to be here. Imagine that. He talked about wanting to spend the rest of his career here. He never asked to be traded. He saw star teammates traded and payrolls slashed and plenty of empty seats inside the Trop. And though he occasionally spoke of his disappointment about all that, he never demanded out.
He never wanted to leave, which makes it harder on us now that he is leaving.
He was the face … and the voice … and the leader … and the bat … and the glove … and the heart … and the soul of the franchise. He was everything, representing the Rays and Tampa Bay proudly on and off the field.
Just about every single good thing that has ever happened to the Tampa Bay Rays has been in part because of Longoria. Before he arrived, the Rays stunk. Now that he leaves, they will probably stink again, at least for a little while.
Fans are sad. Fans are angry. Fans don’t know what to make of all this. They feel helpless.
There’s nothing to do except maybe raise a glass to Evan Longoria.
Make it a chocolate milk.
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones.