BY C.S. HOWARD
Manatee County Public Libraries announced the return of Tampa Bay Rays Third Baseman, Evan Longoria, to its Downtown Central Library on Friday, June 17. Last June, Longoria welcomed a crowd of more than 1,200 at Downtown Library to kick off the Reading With the Rays—“Read Your Way to the Ballpark” program, presented by the Suncoast Credit Union. This year, Longoria plans to make a repeat performance.
As the spokesperson for the Reading With the Rays Program for the past four years, Longoria visits two participating libraries (those in the counties of Charlotte, Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota) each year. He reads a few short books, discusses the importance of reading, asks a few trivia questions and hands out prizes.
“We are thrilled to welcome Evan back. Last year, he created a great deal of enthusiasm among attendees, resulting in over 1,000 children who stayed after the event to sign up for the program,” said Ava Ehde, Library Services Manager.
Reading With the Rays is an incentive-based program to encourage children to visit the library and read over the nine-week summer break. All children in kindergarten through grade 12 are eligible to participate. Participants receive a game card, track their reading hours which are initialed by a parent or guardian and collect rewards at their local library along the way. The ultimate prize is two tickets to a Rays’ home game, achieved by reading a total of 24 hours.
“Having a well-known celebrity come into the library to endorse reading makes a phenomenal difference. We end up getting people in who have never been to any of our libraries or haven’t been to one for awhile. It’s an opportunity to build more awareness about the vast programs and resources we have available to them all year,” said Ehde. The Read Your Way to the Ballpark program information, game cards and prizes are available at all six Manatee County libraries. In addition to this reading program, this summer Manatee County Public Libraries is offering “Reading Wars” where tweens (ages 8 to 12) are encouraged to complete 10 reading activities throughout the summer with the prize being a bash held at Downtown Library on August 3.
Longoria is expected to be at Downtown Library between 11 and 11:30 a.m. Also making an appearance once again will be DJ Kitty. Rays representatives will provide pre-event games. Downtown Library is located at 1301 Barcarrota Boulevard West, Bradenton, 34205 (along Riverwalk). For more information about the Reading with the Rays Summer program can be found by going toraysbaseball.com/reading.