Longo, Red Bull launch new Little League field in Tampa
Special to MLB.com
TAMPA -- On Friday, Evan Longoria recorded his fourth homer in the past five games to help the Rays capture an 8-3 win over the A's. On Saturday, he followed his stellar performance with an even bigger hit -- a figurative grand slam -- when the Rays' third baseman introduced a new Little League field and facility renovations to 300 kids at the Belmont Heights complex in Tampa.
"The true definition of giving back is being able to do something like this and see the actuality of what occurs with your efforts," said Longoria, who participates in several charities in the Tampa Bay area. "We are in the unique position as professional athletes to give back in a special way, and to be a part of what's bigger than us means a lot. Baseball is a game I love and I've done my whole life since I was a child. I was lucky enough to play in a Little League that had financial support and well-kept fields and facilities. To see the progress they've made here [at Belmont Heights complex], and to give these kids a ballpark to be proud of is special."
After Red Bull recruited Longoria as one of its feature athletes in early 2012, Longoria, along with Red Bull's Tampa's Got Wings program, has helped raise $80,000 to renovate the Belmont Heights and Cross Bayou Little League facilities. Longoria and Red Bull donated $1000 for every home run last season, as well as $500 for every RBI.
Inspired by the efforts of Red Bull and Longoria, the City of Tampa and the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners donated $35,000 each to the Belmont Heights Little League.
"Evan opened our eyes to the possibility of what can occur with our assistance," said Hillsborough County commissioner Ken Hagan, who grew up playing in the Belmont Heights Little League. "Life's lessons are often learned on the ballfield, and Evan's presence here is a testament to his interest in the Tampa Bay community."
The field is essentially where some of Tampa's baseball legends played as kids, including Gary Sheffield, Dwight "Doc" Gooden, and Derek Bell. Bell played for five teams during his 10-year career, which included a World Series title in 1992 with the Blue Jays.
"It's good to see [Longoria] come out and be a part of this league and with the kids here," said Bell, who was in attendance Saturday. "Kids need to feel proud of where they're playing. If we can get more African-American kids interested in baseball, it will only help the game."
After Longoria spoke to the Little Leaguers, who were decked out in blue Tampa's Got Wings shirts with Longoria's name on the back, he spent considerable time shaking hands with the kids and coaches, taking pictures with the teams, and even throwing a couple of pitches to two players from the mound. Both ended in strikes.
"I was pretty nervous, but I just tried to focus on making sure I caught it," said Emonte Bentley, 16, who plays in the Little League and for Middleton High School. "It's awesome to have him come out here and spend time with us. I was a big Albert Pujols fan, but now I think Longoria just elevated to the top of the list."