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For some Rays fans, assault rifle doesn't match their image of Evan Longoria

Before this week, Evan Longoria for most fans of the Tampa Bay Rays was their clean-cut, laid-back, hard-hitting, good-looking star third baseman.

Now, though, he is also the owner — or former owner — of an AK-47, the type of assault rifle considered the world's most efficient killing machine.

News came Monday that burglars down in Port Charlotte had entered through an unlocked window the spring training rental home of Longoria and teammates David Price and Reid Brignac. The list of stolen items included iPads, expensive watches, a huge-screen television, and then Longoria's gun. It's not illegal. It's just unexpected.

Fans' reactions on Tuesday ranged widely.

On one hand were fans like Michael Lortz, 33, of Tampa: "I don't think it's that big of a deal. I'm a gun owner myself."

On the other were fans like Cindy McMullen, 57, of St. Petersburg: "My first thought was, 'Oh, Evan, say it ain't so.' " She called it "shocking."

But somewhere in the middle were fans who didn't quite know what to think.

"Maybe he's trying to get a little bit of bada - - in him," said Donna Sweikow, 49, of Clearwater. "Maybe he's been a bada - - all along and we just didn't know it."

"It does make you wonder," said Wendy Stodder, 49, of Winter Haven.

Here's what Longoria has been so far: so good, so quickly, so consistently. Rookie of the Year in 2008. An All-Star every season. A Silver Slugger winner. Twice a Gold Glove winner. He is at this point the face of the franchise for the Rays, and arguably their most famous player ever. He's 25.

Those early accomplishments, along with an appearance that's agreeable to middle America and with women coast to coast, has led to endorsements, too. He's been the cover boy of a baseball video game. He's starred in a popular national TV commercial for New Era ball caps. He's now something called a Gillette Young Gun. Nielsen and E-Poll earlier this month named him the fifth-most marketable baseball player. Rays president Matt Silverman has called him "the type of player Major League Baseball wants to advertise and promote."

The Davie Brown Index is a way for companies to determine which athletes and celebrities can help them sell what they want to sell. Longoria's overall DBI score is lower overall in "awareness" than New York Yankee superstars Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, but he ranks higher, actually, in categories like "trust" and "appeal."

That's probably not going to change because of this, says Darin David, a sports marketing expert from Dallas, "if it moves out of the news cycle pretty quickly and kind of comes and goes."

But someone's marketability is based not on who he is, but on who people think he is. And fair or unfair, legal or not, Longoria's image, even only briefly, is associated with his AK-47.

The AK-47 is durable and reliable. It's easy to carry and easy to use. It's the gun of choice of Somali pirates, urban gangs and Osama bin Laden.

Last year, in his book The Gun, former Marine and New York Times foreign correspondent C.J. Chivers called it "a device that allowed ordinary men to kill other men without extensive training or undue complications."

On Monday, in Tampa, Longoria called it "a personal item."

"I don't have a problem with people being legal gun owners," said Rays fan Tom Topping, 43, of Clearwater. "But the AK-47 just comes with such a malicious reputation."

"I'm sure he's a good person, and that he wouldn't do anything bad," said Winter Haven's Stodder, "but it does make you think about why he thinks he needs that. It makes him look immature. It makes you disappointed in him."

"It does kind of put a taint on that golden image of Evan Longoria," said Cork Gaines, the editor of Rays Index, a popular fan site.

"Now," he said, "this gun is in the hands of criminals who are obviously willing to do bad things. That's a bit worrisome."

Longoria's legal assault rifle is now somebody else's illegal assault rifle.

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8751.

For some Rays fans, assault rifle doesn't match their image of Evan Longoria 03/29/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 10:20am]
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