The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 15, 2009

Rays’ rookie of year credits Pirates’ vet

BRADENTON, Fla.

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.

Starting catcher Carlos Ruiz suffered a pinched nerve in his neck while playing for Panama in the World Baseball Classic and backup Chris Coste has been slowed by a strained hamstring. That has left Paulino and prospect Lou Marson seeing most of the action behind the plate.

The Pirates traded Paulino to the Phillies last December for catching prospect Jason Jaramillo. The Phillies have been impressed with Paulino this spring as he has shown a better work ethic than during his final two seasons with the Pirates, when his weight ballooned to as high as 290 pounds.

“He’s done fine,” Phillies Assistant General Manager Scott Proefrock said. “Competition is a wonderful thing. Obviously, he’s had some success in another organization, had a setback last year and now he’s got a chance to bounce back with us.”

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Potential roadblock: Pirates right-hander Ian Snell almost saw his chance to pitch for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic get scrubbed last month.

It turns out Snell is technically not of Puerto Rican heritage. It is his stepfather, Juan Davila, who is a native of Puerto Rico.

Initially, the WBC wanted to rule Snell ineligible to play for Puerto Rico. However, when Snell was able to provide paperwork that proved he was raised by Davila from the time he was 2 years old, WBC officials relented.

Snell went by the name Ian Oquendo for a while when he was pitching in the Pirates’ minor-league system in honor of his wife, who is also Puerto Rican. Now, he is considering going by Ian Davila-Snell in honor of his stepfather.

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Martin’s son dies: There was tragedy for a former Pirates player this past week as Al Martin’s 17-year-old son Brandon was found dead in a Scottsdale, Ariz., home on Monday morning. Police have not revealed the cause of death.

Brandon Martin was a senior at Chaparral High School, where he played wide receiver on the football team.

“It’s just a tragic situation,” Chaparral football coach Charlie Ragle told the Arizona Republic. “I hope that people understand he was a good kid. We all make mistakes. He was a kid you wanted to be around and have on your football team.”

Al Martin played for the Pirates from 1992-99 and Brandon was a fixture in the clubhouse at Three Rivers Stadium during those latter years.