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March 15, 2009

Rays’ rookie of year credits Pirates’ vet

By JOHN PERROTTO — Evan Longoria made sure to give credit to veteran teammate Eric Hinske after winning the American League Rookie of the Year award last season.

Longoria, the Tampa Bay Rays’ third baseman, expanded on what Hinske did to help him last season earlier in spring training. Hinske was a utility player for the Rays, who went from having the worst record in the American League in 2007 to winning the American League pennant in 2008.

Hinske will play the same utility role with the Pirates this season after being signed as a free agent.

“I’ll be forever grateful to ‘Ske,” Longoria said. “He really took me under his wing when I got called up from the minor leagues last year. He showed me how to prepare myself for games, both physically and mentally. He showed me what it takes to be a major-league player.

“He’s just a great, great guy. He didn’t have to do that, but he really cared about me as a player and a person. He was a special teammate.”

Longoria also credits Hinske for helping him become a rich man.

“He told me don’t pass up the chance to make your first fortune,” Longoria recalled with a smile. “I trust everything he says and I definitely took that advice.”

Thus, Longoria agreed to a six-year, $17.5-million contract last April despite having less than a month of service time in the major leagues. The deal could be worth up to $50 million for nine years if club options are picked up.

Hinske had been in the same situation after winning the AL Rookie of the Year as the Toronto Blue Jays’ third baseman in 2002. During spring training in 2003, he signed a five-year, $15-million contract.

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Catching on: Ronny Paulino, who went from starting catcher in 2007 to Class AAA Indianapolis in 2008 with the Pirates, finds himself getting a lot of playing time this spring with the Philadelphia Phillies.

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