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Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria, already a star, plans to keep getting better

PORT CHARLOTTE — At 25, Wade Boggs still had 2,892 hits to go. At 25, George Brett still had 1,304 runs left to drive in. At 25, Mike Schmidt still had 493 home runs in front of him.

As for Evan Longoria, he just got here, too.

People forget. Longoria arrived so quickly, and he has done so much, that it is easy to think of him as a finished product. He carries himself like a man who has been in the major leagues for a decade, and he has the resume to match.

Three All-Star Games. Two Gold Gloves. A Silver Slugger. A rookie of the year award. Two division titles. Three winning seasons. Endorsements. Acknowledgements. Accomplishments.

And yet, in many ways, Longoria has just come through the door. He has been in the majors less than three years, and he has played only 450 games, and like the other third basemen mentioned above, he is entering his first season as a 25-year-old.

In other words, Longo is still saying hello.

And don't you wonder what he has to say next?

"The more hungry I can keep myself, the better I can be every year," Longoria said. "Whether it's my 10th year or my 12th, or my third or my fourth, I'm going to continue to drive myself to be better every year.

"I've had three good years," Longoria said. "They're solid years. Obviously, they're years I wouldn't give back. I'm proud of them. I think I accomplished a lot in them. But it's just a start. I hope a lot more good years are in front of me. A lot more."

In baseball, the definition of greatness is sustained excellence. Yes, it a difficult thing to star even for a short period. But the players who are remembered are those who matter every year, the ones who never seem satisfied with what they have done. They become stars because they simply will not accept anything less.

"He is driven on the field to be the best," Rays manager Joe Maddon says of Longoria. "He doesn't run from that responsibility at all. He wants those Gold Gloves. He wants the Silver Sluggers.

"But I think this is the best part. He wants to win. He knows if he's driven to win the World Series, the rest will take care of itself."

Longoria says the same, steering the conversation from individual statistics to postseason performances.

"To me, greatness is being able to show you can perform on the highest level," Longoria said. "Guys who have become kind of put on a different pedestal are the guys who can perform in the playoffs, guys who lead teams to championships.

"To me, the team stuff is more important. Being able to play in the playoffs that first year sparked something inside of me. There is a sense of satisfaction to have another year under your belt, but it wasn't anything like playing in the postseason. That's where the satisfaction comes."

At 25, Brooks Robinson still had 14 more Gold Gloves to win. At 25, Eddie Mathews had 1,126 more walks. At 25, Jimmy Collins had his entire Hall of Fame career — every pitch — still to come.

So what pushes the stars to burn brighter? What keeps them in the weight room once they become rich and in the batting cage after they become famous? What drives them once they have made it?

Most of the time, the answer is internal. That's true with Longoria, too. That, and an overwhelming need not to look silly.

"It's more of a pride thing for me," Longoria said. "I don't want to go out on the field and embarrass myself. I know my ability. I know what I'm capable of doing. I wouldn't want to take any step backward. I wouldn't want anyone to begin to doubt me.

"It really comes from the bare essentials of hitting in the cage. I don't want to mis-hit a ball because I feel embarrassed. I feel there is always someone watching and saying, 'Why can't he do this 10 times out of 10? Why isn't he able to catch 10 balls out of 10 and make the throw?' It really comes from inside. I'm sure my teammates aren't saying that and being critical of every move. But I feel it. It upsets me when I don't do things the right way."

Said Maddon: "When we lose a couple of games, or when the team isn't playing well, Longo wears it as much as anybody."

Can Longoria get better? Of course he can. His average has increased each of the past three seasons. His power dipped a bit last year, but he still drove in more than 100 runs.

"I think you'll see his home runs come up as he gets older, because he's not going to miss his pitch when it's there," Maddon said. "It's like when Manny (Ramirez) was in Cleveland. He'd chase a pitch. When Manny stopped swinging at that pitch, his numbers went up. As Evan becomes a more mature hitter, you'll see his numbers get really silly."

It has happened before. The great third basemen seem to go fast and stay strong.

At 25, Graig Nettles still had 52 postseason games in front of him. At 25, Pie Traynor still had nine .300 seasons in front of him. At 25, Chipper Jones still had $140,395,133 worth of salary to come (not counting the $33 million he's signed for over the next three years).

As for Longoria, there are still places to go and things to do. Greatness awaits.

Today, he wants to be better than he was yesterday.

Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria, already a star, plans to keep getting better 03/12/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 13, 2011 1:24pm]
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