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Longoria ably shoulders leadership role

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- "Eat Last" has already become the Rays' mantra this spring, due in no small part to Evan Longoria, the unquestioned leader of the team.

Manager Joe Maddon began talking on Friday about Simon Sinek's book "Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't," and he credited Longoria for calling the book to his attention.

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After arriving at camp on Monday, Longoria explained why.

The book "kind of resonated with me, some of the sayings and some of the things that were in that book," Longoria said. "One of the main focuses of the book is that everybody, human beings, want to be around people who believe what they believe, and when you are, good things can happen.

"When you're with a group [and] everybody around you is all rowing in the same direction and wants the same things and you're not scared to leave those people to make decisions for themselves and be human beings and be leaders in their own right, you're better, everybody's better, the group is better."

Longoria, who confessed to never having been much of a reader until the past two years or so, devoured the book, then mentioned it to Maddon.

"I don't know if he'd read the book, I didn't ask him, but I told him the title, so something must have struck a chord with him," Longoria said. "And I'm happy that it did, because there's some really, really good things in the book."

Maddon allowed that he has yet to read the book, but that hasn't stopped him from embracing the "eating last" concept, as well as Longoria's leadership qualities.

"When you're in a position like [Evan] is, you assume that role; you look for that role, and it's a part of your burden," said Maddon, saluting Longoria for becoming a team leader after pointing out that not everybody is comfortable doing so.

Maddon referenced a conversation with Ken Ravizza, a sports psychology consultant employed by the Rays, who pointed out that players never want to allow the pressure of playing the game to exceed the pleasure.

"As [Evan] is learning and growing into [his leadership role], and some of the other guys, I hope they are mindful of that thought," Maddon sad. "Leadership can be shared within a group, and when you get a group that is totally accountable and understands the concept of eating last, then you really have something special going on."

All is certainly special in Longoria's world. He and his fiancée, Jaime Edmondson, have a healthy daughter, Elle, who will turn 1 on Thursday; he has a contract to remain with the team through 2022; and he's healthy. So one would think that he would have more peace of mind than ever, and he does -- in his personal life. Baseball is another matter, which is attributable to his desire to be a leader.

"It seems like every year gets a little tougher, believe it or not," Longoria said. "I do feel a little bit more weight every year because I'm more of a veteran.

"You're a leader because you're continually responsible for the people that are around you. And you should feel that way. And I do. ... I feel like every year I have a little more responsibility to do certain things and to kind of weigh in on things I wouldn't have in the past. They're good expectations. It's not that I don't have peace of mind, but I feel a little more responsible every year."

With Longoria on the field, the Rays' chances of winning are significantly greater than if he is not. Flash back to 2012, when he played in just 74 games because of a partially torn left hamstring. The Rays went 47-27 in those games, and 43-45 when he did not play.

Longoria played 160 regular-season games in 2013 on a surgically repaired hamstring. He is a tough out, he can hit for power, he is a team leader, he plays Gold Glove defense and he's a winner. If he has another healthy season as he enters the prime of his career, the Rays can expect great things from him.

Those great expectations, the stability of the team's personnel and the new additions would seem to cast the Rays as favorites this season rather than their traditional underdog role, but Longoria would have none of that.

Shortly after complimenting Andrew Friedman, executive vice president of baseball operations, on the offseason work of the front office, Longoria smiled when asked about the Rays being favorites, noting that he felt as though the team had more of a "favorite" tag entering the 2013 season.

"I thought last year we had more expectations coming into the season than we do this year, only because [heading into this season], the Red Sox won the World Series and the Yankees have made some pretty big acquisitions, so that kind of puts us in the shadow again," Longoria said. "I don't think too many analysts will be picking us to win the division, which is perfectly fine with me, because I think we've proven time in and time out that if you believe the right things and play the right way within the clubhouse, the rest will take care of itself."

The Rays must simply follow their leader.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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