TV to teammates: Diamondbacks’ Josh Rojas watched Evan Longoria hit homers in middle school

Mar 2, 2023, 8:15 PM

Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Josh Rojas before a spring training game Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in...

Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Josh Rojas before a spring training game Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Arizona Sports/Alex Weiner)

(Arizona Sports/Alex Weiner)

It’s not every day that a guy you used to watch hit home runs in middle school is now your teammate, but that’s exactly where Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Josh Rojas finds himself with Evan Longoria.

After watching Longoria across 15 seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays (2008-17) and later the San Francisco Giants (2018-22), the likes of Rojas and other D-backs youngsters like Jordan Lawler are soaking up every bit of baseball knowledge they can acquire from the three-time All-Star.

“It’s amazing. I love being around these guys, learning from them — Longo specifically,” Lawler told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Monday. “It’s just great to be around them, baseball minds.”

And while Lawlar still works his way up to making his major league debut, Rojas will be competing with Longoria for playing time at the hot corner this year.

That’s because Longoria said earlier this spring that he didn’t sign with Arizona to be a coach or mentor. He came to put the uniform on and help the team win games.

But that also doesn’t mean the role of being a mentor in addition to being a player and teammate isn’t lost on Longoria.

“It’s been awesome. You get to play against him the last couple years when he was in San Francisco,” Rojas told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke on Tuesday. “He’s a big dude. He has that presence about him. … He’s been around the game a long time.

“It’s always scary when somebody like that comes over to the team because a veteran guy like that, you try to stay out of his way. He has the right to do whatever he wants. He tells you to do this, you do it. He tells you he wants to hit in the cage and you get out of the way. That’s what comes with veteran presence.”

But even for a guy like Longoria, who needs no introduction for what he’s done and given the game of baseball, he can empathize with what it’s like to be in the shoes of a young ballplayer.

He also understands that the approach to a humble leadership and teaching style can pay dividends in the clubhouse, as he continues to earn the respect of his peers despite only being their teammate for a few weeks.

“We were working on groundballs and he was just talking about on groundballs above the waist, keeping your other hand close by at all times and never letting that throwing hand get too far from the glove hand, work on the transfers, it’ll make everything quick,” Rojas said.

“There are little pointers like that. So, he just presents it like one of the guys, so it’s nice to have that guy.”

When Longoria was still with the Rays, he had a veteran mentor in Asdrúbal Cabrera to teach him those hidden tips and tricks of the game. Coincidentally enough, Cabrera was in the D-backs’ clubhouse for the majority of what was his final MLB season in 2021.

So, it makes sense why Lovullo and general manager Mike Hazen brought both of those guys in over the last three seasons to help balance out a very young and up-and-coming clubhouse with a veteran presence.

“He came over in the offseason and right away he was one of the guys, introduced himself like we didn’t know who he was and says, ‘I’m Evan.’ ‘Yeah, I know who you are,'” Rojas said. “So when you have a guy that comes and introduces himself like that and small talks like he’s one of the guys, I think it means so much more that when he does decide to say something of meaning, when he does give you a few pointers on defense or talks about his approach on offense, it means that much more because he’s one of the guys.

“He’s been awesome to have around and I think he fits in just nicely. He has a young-minded heart which is awesome, so he fits right in with the rest of us.”

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