TAMPA -- Eleven-year-old Patrick Jones had a simple reason for being at Seminole Heights Library on Tuesday afternoon.
"To meet Evan Longoria," he said, smiling.
The Rays third baseman was at the library to kick off the 2014 "Reading with the Rays -- Read Your Way to the Ballpark" program before the Rays took on the Cardinals at Tropicana Field later that night.
This is Longoria's third year as the Rays' spokesperson for the program, which encourages kids to read 24 hours during the summer and rewards them with a series of prizes, the last of which is a ticket to a Rays game at Tropicana Field.
"It's a program that for me, this being the third year that I've done it, has continued to grow, not only within the community, but on me," Longoria said. "Actually, the last couple of years, I've approached them and asked to be the person to do it, because we [he and fiancee Jaime Edmondson] were expecting our first child, and reading has been important to us from the beginning with her, so it just kind of seemed fitting for me to be a part of it again."
At Tuesday's event, Longoria read two books -- "Dino Baseball" and "Robot Rumpus!" -- to a group of children (many sporting Longoria jerseys), then asked a few trivia questions, rewarding correct answers with prizes from the program.
The questions ranged from "What's my number?" to "What's the name of the book we just read?" to "What's the most important part of your development as a young adult?" ("Reading" was the answer to that one). Of course, Longoria made sure that every kid who answered a question eventually got it right and got a prize.
"In the beginning, I didn't really read a whole lot myself, and I kind of wanted to continue to do the program," Longoria said. "I read more myself, so when I came I actually was talking about stuff that I knew about, and not just doing it because that's what the program does."
Longoria also said he was happy to be able to use the influence he has for a good cause. The draw of meeting one of their favorite athletes is, after all, what brought kids like Patrick -- whose favorite book is "The Hunger Games," and who plans to read the "Divergent" series this summer -- to the library, and into contact with the program.
"I understand I'm very lucky to do what I do and to be able to have the impact that I have, and to be able to come to places like this and be able to tell kids how important it is to read," Longoria said. "Like I said, it's grown on me, and it's really cool to be able to pass that on to the kids and get them excited about reading."
David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less