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Tampa Bay Rays Evan Longoria fills leadership void of last season

Evan Longoria provides needed leadership for Tampa Bay Rays

“It’s important to me to have my teammates respect me,” says Evan Longoria, taking a cut during Thursday’s rout of the Royals at the Trop.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

“It’s important to me to have my teammates respect me,” says Evan Longoria, taking a cut during Thursday’s rout of the Royals at the Trop.

ST. PETERSBURG

This is his town, and this is his time.

Soon, if it has not happened already, this may be his team.

Watch Evan Longoria bounce across a baseball field, and you get the feeling he is trying to cram two hours' worth of work into an hour's worth of drill work. It is late afternoon, and the Rays are in the middle of baseball's version of laying bricks, and Longo seems to be taking it seriously.

He scurries across the field as if he is perpetually supposed to be somewhere else, like a cat that is suddenly aware it is in the wrong room. He moves as if the boss is watching him, which, of course, he probably is. Everyone else, too.

By now, the world is on to the size of Longoria's talent. Great bat. Great glove. Great sense of timing.

As it turns out, Longoria is on his way to being a great leader, too.

"Evan resonates leadership qualities," said teammate Gabe Kapler. "It isn't just that he has them, because a lot of guys have them. But when those qualities seep out of your pores and everyone can feel it, that's when it sets guys apart."

Already, his teammates have noticed the way Longoria works. It is enough to make the veterans nod. Even better, it is enough to make the youngsters follow. And when you think about it, what Rays player would you rather have a rookie try to emulate?

Among the hidden factors in the Rays' uncanny 17-5 start to this season is this: The leadership is improved over last year. Manager Joe Maddon prefers to say last year's team was in "leader­ship transition" rather than lacking leadership, but it ends up to the same thing.

This year, there has been a lot of leadership. Maddon says Longoria is a better leader. Carl Crawford, too. And James Shields. And Dan Wheeler. And Gabe Kapler. And Carlos Peña. Oh, and did he mention Longo? Yeah, Longo.

"To me, leadership is giving of yourself," Maddon said. "Too many times, players get greedy and think it's only about them to the point they have nothing else to give to anyone else. I think a real leader always has something left over for someone else."

It is important to Longoria, this leadership role. He is only 24 years old, not exactly grizzled, hardly finished with his own growth. Still, he understands the need for leadership. And he doesn't shy away from the assumption of it.

"It's important to me to have my teammates respect me," Longoria said. "It's not about what you say. It's about what you do. Whether I'm struggling or not, whether things are going well or not, I have to take things in perspective and do all the things I would want to see a teammate do. Run balls out hard. Make good turns. Carry myself on the field."

We have the wrong idea about sports leadership, most of us. Maybe it comes from watching Bull Durham too many times. We think leaders are the guys dressing down the slackers in the locker room or delivering the speeches that have been stolen from Braveheart.

Most of the time, it has nothing to do with that. It has more to do with putting in the right work and setting the proper pace. If there is anything vocal about it, it has more to do with saying the right thing at the right time to the right person. Also, three-run homers help.

"Ultimately, it tends to be the guys who play really well," Ben Zobrist said. "Longo is one of those guys everyone looks to do something special."

Forget Longoria's age. Kapler likes what he sees in Longoria's approach.

"He exemplifies what a professional is, what we all aspire to be," Kapler said. "He cares about this team. He cares about being a great player. He cares about winning. He brings an energy. He wants to be on the field for every inning of every game. He always wants to be in the lineup, To me, leadership is about walking the walk. It has nothing to do with what you say. There are plenty of people with something to say, but you have to be able to do what you're talking about consistently. We follow those who take actions. Any motivational speaker could stand up in front of the clubhouse, but that doesn't make him the leader of a clubhouse. The Rays could hire a motivational speaker to fire you up, and you'd be fired up, but it wouldn't last long."

How do you lead? In sports, there are different ways, and Tampa Bay has seen most of them. There was the fire of Hardy Nickerson and Derrick Brooks with the Bucs, the perspective of Dave Andreychuk with the Lightning, the arm-around-the-shoulder approach of Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske with the Rays.

Now, there is a new group of leaders to point the way.

"I'm not much about yelling or acting like a general," Longoria said. "I don't think that's ever going to be needed. No one is in this clubhouse just to earn a paycheck and go through the motions. I think everyone is here to win."

So far, everyone has.

Given this kind of start, who knows where it will lead?

Tampa Bay Rays Evan Longoria fills leadership void of last season

Evan Longoria provides needed leadership for Tampa Bay Rays 04/29/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 30, 2010 9:49am]

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