By Corey Gottlieb / MLB.comTo watch Evan Longoria at the plate is not to be moved by a thing of particular beauty.
Practically motionless, the young slugger appears to meet the pitch solely with his hands, intentionally omitting his body from the equation.
Then he connects, and it becomes clear that there is much, much more to the rookie's approach than the mere half-step that distributes his weight. Such is a metaphor for Longoria the ballplayer; unassuming and thoroughly unpretentious, he possesses a complexity -- and a talent -- that belies his 23 years.
"He's the type of player that can carry a team for a while," Rays manager Joe Maddon told USA Today. "He's going to hit for average. He's going to hit for power. He's going to be a force for a long time."
He wasn't always this good, though -- or at least, he wasn't always believed to be this good. Like a host of ballplayers initially regarded as big league long shots (read: Mike Lowell, Jason Bay, Roy Oswalt and John Smoltz, all of whom were drafted after the 20th round), Longoria has found fuel in others' skepticism, rewriting his own story in the ink of faith rewarded.
That story began in Downey, the small California city where he was born and raised. As is the case for practically every teenage boy from Santa Barbara to Riverside, the game was less a choice for Longoria than a preordained reality.
Birthright aside, the then-undersized slugger met with mixed results at St. John Bosco High School, as he was not pursued by a single Division I program in his senior year. A bit of mathematical perspective: There are 292 teams in D-I baseball, each with roughly 30 players on its roster; in other words, Longoria was not considered among the top 8,500 prospects in the nation in 2003.
Gutsy is an apt description for that which the young infielder displayed after such a disappointment. Inspired by the example set forth by his father, a phone technician, and his mother, a receptionist, Longoria gritted his teeth and enrolled at Rio Hondo Community College, sticking with a dream that stretched well beyond his blue-collar roots.
Longoria's determination paid rapid dividends. In his freshman season, he batted .430 and was offered a scholarship from Long Beach State University. There, he would face another obstacle, as the Dirtbags already had a shortstop by the name of Troy Tulowitzki. Typically unfazed, Longoria shifted to the hot corner, where he cemented his status as a rising star by earning Big West Conference Co-Player of the Year honors as a junior.
The rest is history: Longoria was a rising star, slashing his way through the Cape Cod League and into the crosshairs of every scout in the country.
And apparently, this time, the scouts got it right. Five years and countless innings later, the kid from Downey has gone from undrafted prospect to community college standout to postseason hero.
The baseball world will never, ever overlook him again.
Corey Gottlieb is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.