ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Evan Longoria stood in the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse, answering questions about some of the perks of celebrity and how he would like to be remembered when his playing days are over.
That's the life of an up and coming star.
The 23-year-old third baseman was an instant hit in 2008, signing a contract potentially worth $44 million after beginning the season in the minor leagues and then playing a major role in the team's run to the World Series.
He was an American League all-star, the league's rookie of the year and perhaps became the most recognizable face on a club loaded with young rising stars like himself and center fielder B.J. Upton, whose emergence in the postseason has put him on a fast track, too.
They are two of the reasons the Rays feel they have what it take to repeat as AL champions.
"I definitely think I can repeat what I did last year, if not better. I like to set realistic goals for myself, not outrageous ones," said Longoria, who batted .272 with 27 home runs, 31 doubles and 85 RBIs in 122 games.
"If I had 15 more years like I had last year, I'd be very, very happy with that. . . . Those are pretty solid numbers, but I definitely think with a lot of hard work I can be a better player than I was last year, and hopefully, continue to raise the bar every year."
Life off the field is sweet, too.
Longoria, the third overall pick in the 2006 June draft out of Long Beach State, returned home to Southern California, where he was invited to participate in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic golf tournament.
He teamed with actor Jeffrey Donovan to tie for 16th among a 128-team amateur field, but that wasn't the biggest thrill of the week.
"I met Bo Jackson. . . . He played in front of me for two days straight. He's funny. Bo knows. It was pretty cool," Longoria said. "I introduced myself. I said, 'Hello, Mr. Jackson.' He called me Mr. Longoria back. I thought it was pretty cool that he knew who I was."
Coming off the kind of year he and the Rays had, that shouldn't have been a surprise.
Longoria also hit a few parties during Super Bowl week in Tampa, though he opted to watch the game on television.
"That was one scene I didn't want to be a part of," he said. "I just relaxed and got to watch the whole game."
That's pretty much Upton's style -- quiet, selfless, low profile.
At 24, he's entering his third full season in the majors and beginning to develop into the type of player the Rays envisioned when they selected him second overall in the 2002 draft.
He tied an AL record with seven postseason homers, culminating a year in which his offensive production suffered because of a shoulder injury the speedy outfielder was benched twice by manager Joe Maddon for not hustling.
Upton, who will miss at least the opening week of the season while recovering from surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, hit .288, scored 16 runs, stole six bases and had a team-best 16 RBIs while playing every inning for the Rays in the postseason.
He welcomes heightened expectations for the team and himself, insisting he doesn't feel any more pressure than usual.
"I think just that whole thing was just me playing my part, and that's the way it's going to stay," Upton said. "We've got a goal to get back to where we were last year, so anything I can do to help is what I want to do."
Longoria and Upton combined for 13 home runs in the postseason, second-most of any pair of teammates in major league history. Longoria homered in his first two playoff at-bats, then slugged four more to help Tampa Bay beat Boston in the ALCS.
First baseman Carlos Pena, who turns 31 in May, thinks both have the makeup to handle success at a young age and continue to flourish.
"First of all, as teammates they're unbelievable. They're great kids, and the talent is awe-inspiring. To be able to have a front-row seat and watch them," Pena said, shaking his head and stopping in mid-sentence.
"They not only impress me on the field, they impress me off the field. They handle themselves so professionally. . . . They don't let outside distractions really get the best of them. That's a must. If you look too far outside of yourself, you might get distracted. You might feel pressure. These guys don't do that. They're kids. You think, 'How did they learn this?' "
There have been some difficult times, too.
Longoria got off to a slow start at the plate after being called up from Triple-A Durham last April and then went 1-for-20 in the World Series as the Rays lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games.
"I was living a dream pretty much from the playoffs on. It wasn't like I was so high that I thought I was untouchable, that wasn't the case. But it definitely brought me back into reality quickly of how this game can humble you in a heartbeat," Longoria said.
Maddon said what's more important is how a player rebounds from disappointment. Longoria has a pretty good track record.