Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria received the storybook ending to his fairy-tale season: the American League Rookie of the Year award.
A former Long Beach State standout, Longoria was a unanimous selection for the honor voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and announced Monday. The last unanimous selection was Nomar Garciaparra in 1997.
Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto won the National League’s honor, receiving 31 of 32 first-place votes.
“It’s so special and I appreciate every vote,” Longoria said in a conference call. “If I told you two years ago that I’d be in this situation, I’d be lying. This is a dream come true. The whole award is everything to me.”
Longoria, 23, led all AL rookies with 27 home runs, 85 RBIs, a .531 slugging percentage and 60 extra-base hits while batting .272 in 122 games. He also played stellar defense at third, posting a .963 fielding percentage — sixth-best among AL third basemen.
“It’s phenomenal he was a unanimous choice,” Long Beach State head coach Mike Weathers said. “I’m happy for him and what he was able to accomplish.”
He won the award despite missing a month with a fractured right wrist.
“I believe in my ability and it took one to two months to settle in,” Longoria said. “The adjustment to the lifestyle in the Major Leagues [was tougher].”
The season brought a series of “firsts” for Longoria, including his first career All-Star selection and Tampa Bay’s first-ever playoff appearance, which ended with a five-game loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.
“Just being able to play in that situation, I was still pretty content about the great year we had,” Longoria said.
In the postseason, Longoria hit a ML rookie-record six homers and drove in 13 runs.
The Downey, Calif. native started the season in Triple-A Durham before being called up April 11. Just 20 at-bats into his Major League career, Longoria signed a six-year, $17.5 million contract.
“I didn’t even start the season in the big leagues,” Longoria said. “There are so many emotions going through my mind.”
Longoria is the second Dirtbag to win the award, joining Oakland Athletics shortstop Bobby Crosby in 2004. Last season, Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was named the runner-up to the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun for the NL’s award.
“I have to say the most important baseball people [in my development] are Mike Weathers and Troy,” Longoria said.
Weathers said all Longoria — and a player with his ability — needed was the opportunity to play.
“It was just a matter of his body changing, getting stronger, growing up and getting that experience and chance,” Weathers said. “I give all the credit to the Tampa Bay Rays.”
It didn’t take long for Longoria to set goals for next year.
“My one main goal is to play all 162 games next year,” he said.