By Barry Janoff
February 12, 2016: Evan Longoria, third baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays, has visited New York many times to play the Yankees and on occasion the New York Mets.
This time he came to New York, in the middle of winter, to open sets of 2016 Topps Series 1, the first release from the iconic trading card company to celebrate its 65th anniversary with baseball cards. Carlos Beltan of the Yankees also was in the Topps offices in New York.
It also was in anticipation of the 2016 MLB season, with Spring Training camps set to open in Florida and Arizona Feb. 18-19.
Longoria, the 2008 AL Rookie of the Year, three-time All-Star and, entering the 2016 season, the Rays all-time leader in home runs (205) and RBI (708), knows his way around off the field, as well.
Among his endorsement deals are Red Bull, New Balance, Wilson, Topps and SKLZ sports training equipment. He also has appeared in spots for New Era and Pepsi. He owns a restaurant in South Tampa, Ducky's, which opened in December 2013
While getting a sneak peek at the new Topps MLB set — with Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals on packaging and Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angeles voted by fans to appear on card No. 1 — Longoria spoke to NYSportsJournalism about baseball, marketing and the art of the trade (as in trading cards).
NYSportsJournalism.com: Have you seen changes in the way players endorse products and in the way fans and consumers react to those deals?
Evan Longoria: Definitely. I work with SKLZ, and I've been with them for about four years. From that standpoint, their main concern has been the authenticity of their products and the way in which people view their products. When I work with them, the goal is to continually make it a more viable representation of what a Major League Baseball player would use. So it's important for marketing companies and product companies to make sure that what they are branding and who they are using directly relates to what the product is trying to say.
NYSJ: Have you seen more of an effort from the players' side to align with companies and products that they actually use, and become more involved with the company itself, and not just get into a marketing relationship that would not be authentic with consumers?
EL: Yes. It's a give-and-take. The further you get along with your career, the more you have to align yourself with companies that make sense for you now and moving forward. You can't just take every marketing opportunity that comes your way. Inevitably, there are good ones and bad ones. Just like there are good companies and bad companies. So you have to take the time, sift through them and see what makes sense for you. In the end, you want to say that you are involved with the right companies.
NYSJ: You've been with the Rays since 2008 and are involved in the community, so are you seeing that the type of player you are on the field and the deals you make off the field have had an impact?
EL: I have definitely tried to embrace my role within the community. I love the fans there. They have been very gracious to my family and me. The team has played well. And there's been nothing negative on or off the field. It's about trying to turn the page every year and put out a good team and a good product. Be a good team and continue to support the community in as many ways as possible.
NYSJ: Have you had a chance to see the new Topps Series 1 set?
EL: I like it. I opened some packs and found my cards. I think it was rigged. (Laughs.)
NYSJ: Were you a card collector growing up?
EL: I did have cards. I grew up in southern California, so I followed the teams there and was partial to those cards. I remember keeping some of them in plastic sheets. I enjoyed opening the packs up. I enjoyed chewing the gum, which they don't put in packs anymore.
NYSJ: Do you see Topps cards and card collecting as a good way to reach young fans?
EL: Topps does a great job of that. I know kids give me my cards to sign. The company has been involved with baseball for all these years, so it is part of baseball history.
NYSJ: Do you think your Topps cards are valuable with kids?
EL: I have a lot of my own cards. I keep them to remember what that exact moment was (each season). I'd like to think kids want my cards, especially in Tampa. Maybe not so much in New York or Boston. (Laughs.)
NYSJ: How have they treated you in New York today?
EL: (Laughs.) I just got here this morning so I haven't been heckled yet by (Yankees) fans.
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