Evan Longoria Talks Charitable Work, Hitting, Health in B/R Exclusive Interview

Ely SussmanCorrespondent IApril 25, 2013

Tampa Bay Rays cornerstone Evan Longoria realizes that he has a lot to prove in 2013. He hears the skeptics snipe at his fragility and insist that his early-career success isn't sustainable.

Longoria, 27, can reminisce about his three All-Star selections, two Gold Gloves and 2008 American League Rookie of the Year Award. It's also comforting to know that his gradually-increasing salary will be guaranteed through the 2022 season.

But presently, the third baseman tells Bleacher Report that he is anxious to change the perception of him as "a guy who is always on the DL." An oblique injury sidelined him for 26 games in 2011. Then last summer, the Rays stumbled through the middle of their schedule as he dealt with a torn hamstring and totaled a career-low 312 plate appearances.

He made a commitment to conditioning during spring training that he believes will lead to a healthy campaign, and more importantly, Tampa Bay's success:

I really feel like if I stay on the field, I'm going to play up to my potential. My focus has been working harder on a daily basis to continue to strengthen my body and stay on the field every day...As far as the personal numbers go, I don't really worry about that. I just enjoy playing the game. If I'm able to be on the field, that's the greatest impact I can have.

Of course, much of the baseball world obsesses over individual statistics, and as of April 25, Longoria's are awfully impressive. He's among the American League leaders in Wins Above Replacement (1.0 WAR)—according to FanGraphs—and first on the Rays with five home runs. The most recent of those came against future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. Longoria now has the distinction of being the only active right-handed hitter with multiple career long balls against him (the other came in 2009).

He has been delighted to see Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki—.299/.375/.612 with 6 HR —thrive under similar circumstances. Tulo likewise spent much of the 2012 season on the disabled list, but you wouldn't know it from his MVP-caliber performance thus far. Longoria played with him at Long Beach State University and expected a quick turnaround once he returned to the field.

Now in his sixth MLB season, Longoria has learned to hold all his peers to very high standards. He saw "glimpses" of greatness from John Buck in 2010 when the two were AL East rivals and says the backstop ought to be respected as the current National League RBI leader. Undefeated lefty Matt Moore has made huge strides in his second full major league season, and Longoria attributes that to the starter's work ethic.

"He's off to a great start and it's something that doesn't surprise me," Longoria says. "He's a competitor, a guy who works his tail off to compete every five days."

Moreover, Tampa Bay's franchise player encourages professional athletes to use their resources and influence to contribute to worthy causes:

"That was my goal from the time I was called up to the big leagues with the Rays...Once I solidified myself here, my goal was to stretch my arms as far out as I could into the community, to reach as many different people and as many different groups as I could."

For example, Longoria works with the Moffitt Cancer Center. His private yoga sessions with fans in 2011 raised thousands of dollars for sarcoma research. This season, he's organizing a race team to raise awareness:

.@raysbaseball's @evan3longoria is racing to beat #cancer. Will YOU join him? Sign up at bit.ly/ZgPNjF #Miles4Moffitt

— MoffittCancerCenter (@MoffittNews) April 24, 2013

He supported Pet Pal Animal Shelter in St. Petersburg last summer by donating $100 per home run, while persuading the Rays and Bright House Networks to match.

Longoria juggles daily baseball responsibilities and "baby duties," and admits that the latter causes him to "push stuff back, rearrange some things." But he's grateful for Elle, his daughter who was born this past February. "The good will always outweigh the bad when it comes to your kids," he says.

Somehow, Longoria found a few free hours on April 20 for yet another public service effort. He visited Belmont Heights Little League Park, one of two recently-renovated youth baseball facilities in the Tampa area. Tampa's Got Wings, an initiative created by him and Red Bull, was wholly responsible for financing the project.

The energy drink company is best known for marketing extreme sports stars, but Longoria takes pride in their partnership. "I've been able to pitch ideas here and there that are important to me and they've really been on board with everything," he explains. Longoria's loyal nature is also apparent when he speaks about Tropicana Field. Though Bleacher Report recently criticized it for providing few benefits for the home team, he insists the Rays feel "a pretty significant advantage."

Above all else, this face of the Tampa Bay franchise values consistency. That's why he advocates Red Bull and the Trop, and respects manager Joe Maddon ("He's always the same guy no matter what").

Longoria wants fans to consider him consistent, too. He expects a durable year to convince them.