Evan Longoria was shirtless, with a metal bottle of beer in one hand, his phone in the other and a cigar in his mouth. He had goggles resting atop his head over a backward baseball cap, orange Crocs on his feet and a little bit of rhythm as he shimmied and shook before pausing to allow a metal bucket of beer to be dumped on his head.
If there was ever a photo — or in this case, a cellphone video posted to social media — that told the story, this was it.
Words would provide context, but Longoria’s unbridled joy Tuesday was evident in the brief clip.
He certainly had reason to celebrate.
After first reaching the World Series as a 23-year-old rookie with the upstart Rays in 2008 (losing to the Phillies), Longoria — now 38 and in what may be his last season — is headed back as the veteran leader of the underdog Diamondbacks, excited to get another chance to play for a ring.
“I’m so thankful,’' he told the Tampa Bay Times via text. “I have much, much more appreciation for it now.”
To play 15 seasons before getting back to the Series obviously is a long time, especially in baseball years.
“I know,” Longoria said.
His journey is somewhat historic.
When Longoria plays in Friday’s opener against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas, he will become the first position player — and fourth big-leaguer ever — to return to the World Series after that long of a gap, joining pitchers Jim Kaat (17 seasons), Dennis Martinez (16) and Babe Adams (16).
“Makes me feel old,” Jason Bartlett, the Rays’ shortstop in 2008, said Wednesday. “But it also shows how hard he’s worked to be successful for this long. He’s always been a hard worker and a student of the game, and always wanted to be better and improve. He’s a great person and has had an amazing career.”
When it started back in 2008, Longoria was a fresh-faced newbie with a full head of hair, called up from Triple-A Durham in early April after agreeing to a long-term contract worth up to $44.5 million over nine years. He played the first of his 10 seasons with the team, rebranded that year as the Rays with a new blue color scheme.
Longoria had considerable success during his time in Tampa Bay, making three All-Star teams; earning a Rookie of the Year award, three Gold Gloves and a Sliver Slugger bat; and finishing in the top 19 of the league MVP voting six times.
Though the Rays made the playoffs again in 2010, 2011 and 2013, they never got past the division series. And when the second long-term deal Longoria signed in November 2012 (guaranteeing him $100 million over six years) became too much of a burden for the franchise, he was traded in December 2017 to San Francisco.
Longoria left as — and remains — the best player in Rays franchise history.
So much so that no player has worn his No. 3 since (and won’t, as it eventually will be retired). The Rays last month unveiled a statue of his 2011 Game 162 home run outside Tropicana Field as the one of the two most memorable moments in franchise history. (The other was Akinori Iwamura stepping on second base to clinch the 2008 AL pennant and the trip to the World Series.)
The Giants made the playoffs only once during Longoria’s five years — winning 107 games and the NL West in 2021 before being ousted in the division series.
When the Giants declined Longoria’s option after last season, his strong preference was to return to the Rays. He reached out to team officials and had some exploratory talks but was told there wasn’t a good fit.
He had a couple of other options to pursue but signed with the Diamondbacks — who lost 110 games in 2021 and were 74-88 last year — mostly out of convenience: He lives 20 minutes from both their spring complex and regular-season stadium.
All of which made Longoria’s trip back to the Series surprising. There is the added bonus of clinching the NL pennant in Philadelphia, on the same field where the Rays lost the World Series 15 years earlier and Longoria lingered in the dugout to watch the Phillies’ celebration.
“The guys just believed,” Longoria, now bearded and balding, told MLB Network Radio after Tuesday’s win. “I’m really just happy for the group, to be honest with you. Selfishly, it’s cool for me. But I know for a fact that when I signed with the Diamondbacks nobody believed this was possible. Obviously, a lot of it was staying at home (and) being with my family. But I had a ton of belief in this group, too.”
He also has former Rays teammates believing in him.
“It’s great to see Evan back in the World Series,” said 2008 reliever Dan Wheeler. “It is extremely difficult to make the playoffs, never mind getting to the World Series. It shows his unbelievable hard work and dedication to getting back there after all this time.”
Even more so, starter James Shields said, given the situation.
“As a player, especially not winning the World Series back then and to be able to get a chance to do that 15 years later is pretty special,” Shields said. “It’s a testament to who he is as a player, keeping himself as healthy as he has all those years and grinding away to have this opportunity again to win the World Series. There’s not many guys that have lasted as long as Longo has. ... I hope he’s really taking this moment in.”
Added former Rays reliever J.P. Howell, “I am never shocked when I see Longo touching greatness. He manifests it at a high rate. His presence alone brings confidence to the whole group.
“Hope he seals the deal this time.”
Some former Rays major- and minor-league players and staff in the World Series:
RHP Merrill Kelly
3B Evan Longoria
OF Tommy Pham
RHP Ryan Thompson
Coach Dan Carlson, assistant pitching
Coach Damion Easley, assistant hitting
LHP Brock Burke
RHP Matt Bush
RHP Nate Eovaldi
INF Brad Miller-x
RHP Jake Odorizzi-x
Coach Bobby Wilson, catching
• • •
Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.