Posted: Saturday March 26, 2011 4:08PM ; Updated: Saturday March 26, 2011 6:01PM
Joe Lemire
Joe Lemire>INSIDE BASEBALL

Longoria, Thome talk baseball (cont.)

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Evan Longoria
Evan Longoria grew up idolizing Ken Griffey Jr. and said it was surreal to play against him in 2008.
AP

Longoria: That was pretty cool. That's been one of the coolest experiences for a young player -- playing against guys who I grew up watching. Obviously, Jim and my idol, the guy I grew up admiring the most, was Ken Griffey Jr., and playing against him when Junior was with Chicago in 2008 was pretty surreal to be on the same field as guys I grew up watching. But, no, I never saw him play third base.

SI.com: To return the favor -- Jim, have you seen Evan's acting chops in the New Era commercial where he's seeking his lost cap?

Thome: Yes, very good. He's the man in that regard, there's no doubt. He's been in some great commercials. We talk about it in baseball. It shows that the new, young talent, the new superstars right now -- not only are they good athletes and good players, but they also can do other things well. It's cool

Longoria: Ryan Braun has a new good one too.

Thome: Does he?

Longoria: I think it's for Muscle Milk. But that's a really good one too.

Thome: But jumping out of the helicopter, that is pretty cool.

Longoria: I still get asked about it.

SI.com: Jim, as you approach 600 home runs, has the reality of that number started to sink in?

Thome: It's pretty special. You can never fathom that. I would never have thought that. You come in your early years and you want to keep doing well to survive and keep playing until, maybe, you have an organization give you a long-term deal. You get to a point where you've had a little bit of success, and you see that success and you want to keep doing well and strive not only to be a good player but to do it for a long time. With that being said, with a lot of ups and downs along the way and a lot of nights when you go home and you scratch your head and you go, 'We've got to get back to the drawing board.' You might go four or five days and start swinging the bat really well and that might carry on for a month.'

The great thing of baseball is that every day you never know. It's the unexpected. Today might be the day you go out and hit two home runs or three home runs. Or it might be that day you strike out four times. That's what makes you keep going back -- the unknown. But to fathom being at almost 600 home runs? How could you? You can't. I don't know, I feel very humbled to say the least with that.

SI.com: Do you see any similarity between the homegrown cores of Jim's Indians in the '90s Indians and Evan's Rays right now?

Thome: Yes, I think absolutely. It starts with the minor leagues and scouts and drafting, as I said before, good young pitching. [The Rays] have drafted extremely well. What happens is that, for a little bit there, you suffer. You're not as good as where they're at right now. But now you're seeing the reward for that three, four, maybe five-year period where you're not competing at the level you want, but then all of a sudden, at the snap of the finger, things turn around. I remember when these guys got really good. They had good pitching, good core everyday guys and they locked him up to a long-term deal, similar to what [general manager] John Hart did in Cleveland with our young guys in the '90s: myself, Manny [Ramirez], Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar [Jr.].It kept us around for a while and it kept that core group together for a while, and it's a similar kind of thing [in Tampa Bay].

Longoria: It's been fun to watch our team grow because I was in the minor leagues for almost two years, and I'm still playing with a lot of the same players I cam through the minor leagues with. That right there in itself shows how far we've come as an organization and how well the coaches and everybody and how good a job they've done to develop the talent they've had.

You also have to understand that to have a good team that's homegrown, there's going to have to be years when you're not good. To draft that high in the draft and get the good players, you have to finish last in the league. That's really where, for nine, 10 years in a row, we were drafting first or second in baseball. They had some bad drafts, but they've had some really good drafts in the last five, six years. Those are starting to come on [in the majors].

SI.com: I have to ask -- after spending some time around Manny Ramirez in Rays camp this week, what's it like having him as a teammate? (Thome played with Ramirez from 1993 through 2000 with the Indians; Ramirez signed to join the Rays this offseason)

Thome: Manny is a joy to be around. He is. Manny does a lot of fun, good, silly things to keep the team loose. I will say this: in the years that we were together there were not a lot who worked as hard as him. He put his time in. Talk about a guy that spends a lot of time in the cage.

Longoria: Countless hours.

Thome: Countless hours. Manny has earned what he's got. He looks like he's in really good shape and he's having a good spring.

Longoria: Manny is a really good player. I have to say that, in being around him this spring and working out with him in the offseason, it made me see that Manny is a really good teammate. He really just likes to put on the uniform. He's in the clubhouse at 9 a.m. and he's already put on his pants and shoes and his belt. Not a lot of guys do that. Manny just loves baseball and being around baseball.

Thome: Manny is in a similar position that I'm in. We know we're not going to play forever. I think when you've competed at a high level and then when you get a little older, you don't play as much, you don't play everyday. As an older player, you need those breaks. You appreciate, like Evan said, getting to the ballpark early and putting the uniform on. The game is a great game. We love to play it. That's what I've always seen with Manny. He's always loved playing the game. Believe it or not, he loves his teammates. He likes being one of the guys.

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