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Rays' Longoria takes on more leadership

PORT CHARLOTTE — Evan Longoria had plenty to smile about when he reported to Rays camp Monday.

The team looks so good, he made a point to congratulate executive vice president Andrew Friedman for an offseason job so well done. His family is fine, baby Elle healthy and turning 1 Thursday, longtime girlfriend Jaime Edmondson now his fiancee.

The Tampa sports bar he invested in is finally open. Two concerns of last spring were ameliorated, proving the November 2012 surgery to repair his left hamstring a success and the pressures of his $100 million contract extension a non-factor, as he played in a career-high 160 games in leading the Rays back to the playoffs with a solid overall season.

"From a personal standpoint, things are a lot more calm," Longoria said. "I will be able to focus more on just coming here and doing the things that I feel like I know how to do pretty well."

But despite the fame and the fortune and the fun, the face of the Rays has something to fret about, too:

The increasing burden of leadership.

"It seems like every year gets a little bit tougher, believe it or not," Longoria said. "Not physically and not from a performance standpoint, but because I do feel a little more weight every year, because I'm more of a veteran."

He referenced a quote he later texted verbatim, an excerpt from the Simon Sinek book with the title Leaders Eat Last that is becoming the team's 2014 catchphrase: "Leadership is not a license to do less; it is a responsibility to do more. And that's the trouble. Leadership takes work."

Longoria, 28, said he understands that is part of the deal. "It's good, and it's bad," he said. "It's never bad, but I feel like every year I have a little bit more responsibility to do certain things and to kind of weigh in on things that I wouldn't have in the past. They're good, I guess you'd call them, expectations. It's not that I don't have peace of mind, but I just feel a little bit more responsible every year."

Manager Joe Maddon heaped praise on Longoria for taking on the role, acknowledging that while some don't want it, "he definitely understands his place in the game, and his place with us. And thus he does not shy away from those moments."

But Maddon also cautioned about Longoria taking it too seriously, urging him to remember that he is living his dream of playing baseball and, borrowing a line from performance consultant/sports psychologist Ken Ravizza, that it was vital to never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.

"As he is learning and growing into this, and some of the other guys, I hope they are mindful of that thought," Maddon said.

Longoria has expressed his leadership in different ways.

On the eve of last year's season opener, Longoria said the team was in "a better mental state" without longtime veterans James Shields and B.J. Upton, whom he felt had remained scarred by their Devil Rays past.

Then Monday, he implied they'd be better off with fewer distractions in the clubhouse, apparently referencing the occasions when Maddon brings in performers or animals to lighten the mood — of which Longoria has never been a fan — and the departure of DH Luke Scott. "Fewer snakes and fewer pig heads and less political conflict,'' he said.

Also, Longoria said, there is a need for more overall intensity throughout the season, a realization that there can be critical moments in April as well as September, and the Rays need to "be able to kind of grind it out and put our pedal to the metal, so to speak."

He started the process Monday, noting that having the core of the team back should facilitate discussion.

"The things that we didn't like about last year's team are easier to correct, because you don't have a whole new group of guys that you've got to try to get on the same page again," he said. "I think we've already had the beginnings of some conversations of some things that we'd like to address as a group and try to steer in a different direction, or at least argue about it, and get everybody's input and have some constructive criticism and try to go in a different direction than we did last year."

A leader's work, apparently, is never done.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.

Rays' Longoria takes on more leadership 02/17/14 [Last modified: Monday, February 17, 2014 11:48pm]
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