ANAHEIM — Tampa Bay Rays third baseman and former Long Beach State star Evan Longoria returned home to Southern California with a bang, much to the dismay of the Los Angeles Angels’ pitching staff.
Longoria’s meteoric rise from high school player to big league phenom is quite a story. From a freshman junior college player to the third overall pick in the 2006 draft — the highest selection in LBSU history — his quick ascension from unknown to top prospect isn’t lost on anyone including himself.
“I’ve gotten a lot of time, especially in the off-season to think about the things that have happened,” Longoria said. “But, it’s still pretty crazy to think back that just three years ago I was at Long Beach and before that I wasn’t even thinking about professional ball.”
Dirtbags head coach Mike Weathers saw something special in Longoria while at Rio Hondo Community College to offer the infielder a scholarship to Long Beach State.
“I thought he could hit the first time I saw him,” Weathers said. “He had really quick hands for a hitter and his bat speed was as good as we’ve ever had here.
“He’s since made himself a real good defensive player too, but the first thing that caught my eye was his offense.”
Longoria faced fellow ex-Dirtbag and Angels starter Jered Weaver for the first time at Angel Stadium June 10, finishing 2-for-3 with two doubles.
Longoria, the 2006 Big West Conference co-Player of the Year, gave his friends and family an instant highlight to remember in the opener of the series. The rookie third baseman crushed Angels starter Joe Saunders’ second pitch over both bullpens in left field for a home run in the second inning and led Tampa Bay to a 13-4 rout over Los Angeles June 9 at Angel Stadium.
“I had a bunch of family and friends here,” Longoria said. “It was just exciting to be back in California and to be able to play in this park, but to have the day I had was a great feeling.”
His Rays teammates even predicted the blast before the game.
“We all told him he was going to hit a home run,” All-Star left fielder Carl Crawford said. “You could tell he just felt good being at home, so we had that feeling he was going to do something good.”
When Longoria returned to the dugout, however, his teammates gave him the silent treatment.
“Last night after his first home run, we all just sat down,” shortstop Jason Bartlett said. “We never got up to congratulate him. Usually, you kind of do that to the new guys, and it was fun for him. Everybody got a laugh out of it. It might have helped him, he hit another one in the ninth inning.”
Friends and family were quick to congratulate Longoria with phone calls and text messages after his performance.
“I had quite a few,” Longoria said. “A lot of the people who were watching on TV, the old college coach — I probably had about 10 messages left after the game.”
Widely considered the front-runner for the Rays’ Opening Day job at third base in Spring Training, Longoria instead found himself starting the season in Triple-A with the Durham Bulls.
The Downey, Calif., native received the call to the big leagues April 11, after Tampa Bay third baseman Willy Aybar suffered a sore left hamstring and was placed on the 15-day disabled list.
“It was crazy, that’s the only word that can really describe it,” Longoria said about the news. “I got called up right before the game [in Durham], so I was on a plane that night and I was pretty nervous, to be honest with you. Then, once I got on the field and got my first at-bat out of the way, it all came back to me.”
Longoria made his Major League debut April 12 against the Baltimore Orioles and reached base in three of his first four career plate appearances. He finished 1-for-3 with an RBI single and a walk, including his first hit and RBI of his career in the sixth inning off Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera.
Longoria still hasn’t forgotten his Dirtbag roots.
LBSU baseball continues to grow under the tutelage of its bright young stars. Ex-Dirtbags like Longoria and Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who finished second in Rookie of the Year voting last season, come back to the Beach in the fall to work with current players.
“Once you’re a Dirtbag you’re always a Dirtbag,” Longoria said. “Everybody comes back. It’s just kind of tradition. I see guys who I didn’t see all year back there in the fall working out.”
The impact was not lost on Weathers.
“I think it just shows how much they got out of the program,” he said. “That they are willing to give back, and I think our players look at that and understand what a close knit group this Long Beach State baseball family is.”
With the help of players like Longoria, the family continues to make an impact in the major leagues.