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Eyeing more hands in the air

TAMPA — The video screens played the highlight of the Rays' dramatic comeback win over the Yankees in Game 162 of the 2011 season. There was the image of third baseman Evan Longoria, who was in attendance Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Sneaker Soiree, hitting the drive that cleared the leftfield fence to send the Rays to the playoffs. As he rounded third, it really hit home.

That was the moment of the year in Tampa Bay sports.

"We won the final game of the regular season for this award," Rays president Matt Silverman said. "We hope to be back next year after winning the final game of the postseason."

Longoria, who is on the disabled list recovering from a hamstring strain, also announced a partnership with Red Bull, which will donate $1,000 for every home run he hits and $500 for every RBI to benefit area Little League programs.

"I better start getting back on the field to earn some money for these kids," Longoria said.

The second Sneaker Soiree, hosted by the Tampa Bay Sports Commission at TPepin's Hospitality Centre, was a celebration of amateur and professional athletes and an examination of the communities' professional sports franchises.

It also was a chance to post­humously honor three Tampa Bay sports icons whose legacy of community service endures: Bucs Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, University of Tampa quarterback and two-time Super Bowl champion Freddie Solomon and former Tampa Tribune sports editor and columnist Tom McEwen.

The evening's highlight was a roundtable discussion with the pro franchise executives: Bucs general manager Mark Dominik, Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman and Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

The Rays, who are tied atop the American League East despite 10 players on the disabled list, utilize the collection of information to stay ahead of high-revenue teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox.

"Baseball is an information business, and for us, to collect that information, to synthesize that information and to utilize that information ahead of other teams is a competitive advantage," Friedman said. "We talk about it a lot. It's absolutely critical for us to stay in front of other teams in our division and so with the revenue disparity, we have to do things differently. We don't have a choice. If we operated like the Red Sox and Yankees, we would absolutely finish last."

Rays manager Joe Maddon was named the philanthropic player or coach of the year.

Dominik emphasized the qualities that made former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano the perfect fit for the young Bucs: organization, attention to detail and the passion to squeeze something out of the 1,440 minutes each day. "Coach Schiano has been everything we wanted him to be," Dominik said. "He's a genuine person and a great guy but also a great leader and mentor for our football team."

It was Schiano who decided to sign former Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand to a contract. LeGrand was paralyzed in a game against Army in 2010. LeGrand's signing by the Bucs was recognized as the acquisition of the year. "We think Eric epitomizes what a professional athlete is, what it is to really strive," Dominik said.

Yzerman credited owner Jeff Vinik for the Lightning's success. Their organization received awards for the year's best sports facility, foundation and fan experience. Lightning chief executive officer Tod Leiweke was named executive of the year.

Yzerman was asked about the Lightning's pursuit of a goaltender and said it would attempt to trade for one, but if unsuccessful, it would consider free agency. "I got here a half-hour early and started searching the room for a goalie," Yzerman said.

Eyeing more hands in the air 05/31/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 1, 2012 12:17am]
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