ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Each person has a story, each a memory. That’s partly why Evan Longoria was one of more than 6,000 participants at the “Miles for Moffitt” event Saturday in Tampa, Fla., which raised money for research at the Moffitt Cancer Center.
No one is unaffected. No one is untouched. No one is above being inspired.
“A lot of touching stories,” the Tampa Bay Rays third baseman said Saturday night at Tropicana Field, before the second game of a three-game series between the Rays and San Diego Padres. “Cancer is one of those things that we’ve all been affected by in some way, shape or form.”
Longoria showed support during the eighth annual walk-and-run event at the University of South Florida by taking part in a one-mile walk. A five-mile wheelchair race, five-mile and 5K runs also were held, in addition to a five-mile/5K walk-and-stroller event. More than $300,000 was raised for the Tampa-based center, even with concerns that attendance might be down because of higher registration fees and the Boston Marathon bombings in April.
Still, Longoria’s group for the event, “Team Longo,” was a collective gesture. It included the three-time All-Star, his girlfriend, Jaime Edmondson, and it drew 31 recruits.
Team Longo’s amount raised: $2,183. Impact: immeasurable.
“It’s that very special and unique position that we have as professional athletes in the community,” Longoria said. “That’s one of the things that I think you always struggle with as a person in my position, because you wish you could get to everybody, and you wish you could grant everybody’s wishes.
“Those times when you do have the opportunity to meet and talk with people here at the ballpark or wherever, you don’t really realize how far those things go.”
For Longoria, the payoff Saturday came in flashes: seeing people of all ages, of all walks of life, gather at daybreak to share the moment; witnessing cancer survivors display resilience; listening to memories of how the smallest acts can make the largest difference.
Many tales. More touched.
Here’s an example: Longoria spoke with two men who remembered his signing a baseball for them last year so that they could give it to their friend, sick from cancer. The pair told Longoria on Saturday that the friend had since passed away, but the ball was placed on a mantle with a jersey in memoriam. The two walked for their friend.
“Evan is the face of our franchise, from a player’s standpoint,” Rays infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist said. “It’s important for him to be out there, and I think he takes that stuff seriously and … he takes it as his way of being the person that he is. I don’t think he’s trying to be anyone different than who he is.”
There are similar stories around the Rays clubhouse, of course. For some, showing support in the community is an understood part of their role. Zobrist, for instance, said he enjoys doing so in the offseason because “you need to give that time back to the community and be willing to be the public persona.” On Saturday night, infielder/outfielder Sean Rodriguez and his wife, Giselle, took part in opening ceremonies at Tropicana Field for Autism Speaks Night, a cause Rodriguez holds close.
“There are plenty of people out there who only dream of doing what we’re doing, in the same way (we) dreamed about it one day,” Rodriguez said. “You’re fortunate enough to do that, so you don’t just try to give back, but you try to let them know that you understand that there are some things going on out there, and you want to try to do what you can to help in any way possible.”
We live in an age when following sports involves some cynicism. In many ways, caution is excused. The money gets larger. The stakes get higher. There are fines and holdouts, hypocrites and arrests. It’s easy to become jaded.
Still, others use their platform for good. Others make a memory, not a mistake.
“We were so excited to have Evan Longoria join us today and hope that he can come to next year’s race,” said Sonia Cerundolo, special events officer for the Moffitt Cancer Center Foundation.