ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — Evan Longoria bundled up before stepping out into the cold, zipping his bright blue winter jacket all the way up, putting on his scarf and pulling his gray stocking cap tight over his ears.
This wasn’t exactly baseball weather.
The Tampa Bay Rays third baseman spent Saturday hanging out with fellow athletes sponsored by Red Bull and taking in the dizzying sights and loud sounds of the Winter X Games.
For a change, Longoria was just a fan — gushing over meeting Mark McMorris, who won the snowboard slopestyle competition over a talented field that included Shaun White.
And for once, Longoria didn’t draw a crowd; nobody really knew who he was. He wasn’t the All-Star who signed a lucrative new contract in the offseason.
No, he was simply that guy shivering like everyone else.
“It’s pretty cool to see other professionals do what they do,” said Longoria, who left the 80-degree weather of Scottsdale, Ariz., for his trip to Aspen. “Just chillin’ with the Red Bull people.”
Emphasis on chill. Sure, it was 35 degrees but the snow moved into the area Saturday night.
Makes the warmth of Florida sound awfully nice about now.
Longoria will report to Port Charlotte, Fla., for spring training with Tampa Bay’s pitchers and catchers on Feb. 12 because the Rays want to check his progress after he underwent minor surgery on his left hamstring in late November. That partially torn hamstring hampered him all last season, when played in just 74 games.
“Two weeks after the surgery, I felt like it had never happened,” Longoria said. “It was that good. The surgery helped that much.”
Although he’s surrounded by snowboarders, he has no desire to try it. Longoria will stick with hitting hanging sliders instead of the slopes. But when his career is over — and his contract permits it — he wants to try snowboarding again. When he was younger, Longoria used to head up to Big Bear in California to get in a few runs.
“But I didn’t have the money to afford the right gear so I was cold and miserable,” he said. “I think it would be fun to give it a try again with the right gear.”
He certainly came away with a sense of awe for these athletes. He watched the 19-year-old McMorris turn in some gnarly tricks to capture his second straight slopestyle title.
“That McMorris kid is the truth,” Longoria said. “He’s crazy good.”
Longoria has been, too.
The two-time AL Gold Glove winner and 2008 AL Rookie of the Year ranks second on the Rays career list with 130 home runs and third with 456 RBIs.
This illustrates the importance of Longoria last season: Tampa Bay went 41-44 without him and 47-27 with him in the starting lineup. That’s a reason why the Rays agreed to a $136.6 million, 10-year contract with Longoria that adds six guaranteed seasons and $100 million.
It’s a lot of money — and pressure.
Then again, he’s been there before. Just six games into his major league career in `08, Longoria agreed to a $17.5 million, six-year contract that included club options.
Now that was pressure.
“People were like, `This guy hasn’t even proven himself at the big league level and you just gave him all that money?'” Longoria recalled. “With this contract, the expectations will be higher for people on the outside looking in. I understand. I’m an established player and know what I need to do to prepare and succeed.”
Like spending the offseason working out. Five days a week, he was at a local training facility. And with a fully enclosed cage at his house, he didn’t have to go far to take some swings. That cage will come in handy when Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki uses his house for spring training, since it’s only 10 minutes from Colorado’s facility.
When Longoria shows up for camp, he’s going to have quite a few new teammates to meet. The Rays traded James Shields to the Kansas City Royals, getting top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi along with two other minor leaguers in return. The team also signed first baseman James Loney.
However, Tampa Bay saw outfielder B.J. Upton leave for Atlanta.
“I’m excited to see how it comes together,” Longoria said. “The most important thing is good clubhouse chemistry.”
The Rays open the season April 2 at home against Baltimore. Longoria hopes he’s in the lineup for the game. See, he and his girlfriend are expecting their first child the day before.
“We’re excited,” he said, “and we’re a little bit nervous.”
About this time of year, Longoria gets a little antsy. That switch gets flipped in his head, telling him it’s almost time for baseball.
“Innately, it just happens,” Longoria explained. “I know it’s around the corner, but I’m still enjoying my time off.”