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All-Star Game | 8 tonight, Ch. 13, Yankee Stadium

Longoria maintains cool during All-Star madness

NEW YORK -- The fans in the first row at Yankee Stadium scream the names of American League All-Stars as they come off the field following batting practice. One by one, the players disappear into the dugout without so much as a wave.

So maybe the kid doesn't know any better. Or maybe he remembers what the others have already forgotten.

For it was only a few months ago that he was in the minor leagues. And it was not so many years ago that he, too, was sitting in the stands at Yankee Stadium in the Derek Jeter jersey he had just purchased.

And maybe that is why Evan Longoria stopped.

The youngest player in the All-Star Game stood on the front step of the dugout Monday evening and signed autographs as fans threw baseballs at him from every direction. He smiled, he joked, he looked as if he were savoring every moment.

For some, this moment would be the culmination of a dream. For Longoria, it feels more like a starting point.

"It's the beginning of his life," his father Mike would later say.

If you judge a man by the company he keeps, Longoria will not soon be forgotten. He took grounders beside Alex Rodriguez during batting practice. He goofed around with Grady Sizemore outside the batting cage. His locker in the home clubhouse is next to Manny Ramirez.

So who had the locker on the other side?

"I can't remember," Longoria said, shaking his head. "I can't think."

Longoria, 22, will be lucky if he recalls half of what happens this week. He was in the Home Run Derby Monday night, he will take part in a parade today and he will join a half-dozen Hall of Famers during Bob Costas' HBO show on Wednesday. Somewhere in between, he will play in the All-Star Game.

"I don't think I'm going to realize the significance of the whole thing until maybe a year or two from now, or maybe even longer when I have kids or grandkids to tell," Longoria said. "I get to play in the last All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. Right now, everything is going real fast, but it's definitely going to be special for the rest of my life."

It is easy to forget just how quickly Longoria's life has already changed. Five years ago, he was a decent prep prospect who went ignored by 30 major-league teams as 1,480 other players were drafted.

Several players taken in the first 10 picks of that draft still have not reached the majors, while Longoria is fast on his way to winning the American League Rookie of the Year award.

"He was always the best player on every team he was on, but he never really stood out," Mike Longoria said. "I think he always expected to be here. He never said it, he just believed it."

There is a presence to Longoria that is hard to define. A sense of poise and calm that is not natural for someone barely two years removed from his junior season at Long Beach State.

He is polite, but not too talkative. He is confident, but never pompous. He is thoughtful enough to have invited his two younger brothers to join him on the field for the Home Run Derby but carefree enough to have not even bothered to ask anyone to be his pitcher for the event until he arrived at the stadium. (Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills stepped in.)

For 45 minutes during a news conference Monday afternoon, he was gracious and said all the right things about being honored and flattered to be an All-Star, but behind the words it was clear he was not overwhelmed.

"I don't normally (get flustered) in the moment. I get blind to the whole situation, and then when I look back a couple of days later I'll think, 'Wow, was I really just at Yankee Stadium where some of the best players who have ever played the game have played?' " Longoria said. "It's hard to take a step back in the moment because I'm so focused on being here."

As he stood in the stands behind home plate at the most famous stadium in sports, Mike Longoria laughed when asked about his son's poise.

"That's the kind of kid he is. What you saw today, that's what he is," Mike said. "Within the family, he might be a little different. When he called me about this he was screaming, 'I made the All-Stars!' But outside of the family, his outward appearance is exactly what you've seen. That's the man he is."

And three months after being promoted from Triple A, two years after being drafted No. 3 out of college, Longoria seems to be fitting in very well around the game's greatest players.

You watch as he and Rodriguez take turns fielding grounders from Jim Leyland during batting practice, and you wonder about the conversations between today's star and tomorrow's hope. ("I've got one word for you Evan: Pre-nup.")

You see him joking with Dioner Navarro's young son during batting practice, and you marvel at his own youthfulness.

You see him signing autographs as people scream his name, and you imagine what his future holds.

By the way, one other player eventually stopped to sign autographs on his way into the dugout.

And that was Jeter.

Yeah, you can tell a lot about the company a man keeps.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Longoria maintains cool during All-Star madness 07/14/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 15, 2008 5:29pm]
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