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For Boggs, an outlet for competitiveness

Tonight's Legends of Baseball game is a reason for the Rays coach to practice his hitting stroke again.

Not so long ago he was packing his bags for a 10-day road trip, taking the first pitch all the way and laying on the trainer's table trying to recover for the next day's game.

On Aug. 7, 1999, to be exact, Wade Boggs was smacking a Chris Haney pitch over the rightfield wall to become the 22nd player in baseball history to reach 3,000 hits.

That day, Boggs cemented his place as one of baseball's legends. Today, he hosts and plays in the Legends of Baseball game at 7 p.m. at Florida Power Park.

At 42, Boggs is not ancient, but he's playing with old-timers.

"I guess that's the bridge you have to cross," the Rays new hitting coach joked. "I had the finality last year of not playing and sitting down and watching major-league baseball for the first time in 18 years.

"I had the opportunity last year to go to the (New York) Yankees' old-timers game and didn't go. But when you're not hurt and you can still run around and throw and take batting practice and do things the way you used to, you don't feel old. You feel great."

As part of the Festival of Baseball weekend, Boggs was scheduled to attend a sold-out Baseball for Kids Dinner and Auction at the Tradewinds Resort on Friday and is expected to join Brooks Robinson at an autograph signing session from 2-4 p.m. at Tyrone Square Mall.

Proceeds from the events will benefit the Children's Home of Tampa Bay, All Children's Hospital and the Major League Baseball Alumni Association.

As usual, the event is scheduled to feature some of the game's greats. The roster of former stars includes Vida Blue, Goose Gossage, Bob Feller, Ferguson Jenkins, Rick Sutcliffe and Robinson.

The rosters will be filled out with celebrities, including actors Mark Harmon, Jon Lovitz and Jonathan Silverman and singer Joe Walsh.

But regardless of who is in uniform, Boggs said he suspects playing in the game will only bring back some competitive urges.

"I'm not treating it any differently than when I was playing," said Boggs, who committed to the event before learning that the Rays were going to play in Mexico this weekend.

And he has a leg up on his opponents. Wednesday, the Rays put pitchers Juan Guzman and Matt White through a simulated game at Florida Power Park. With the team short on hitters that early in the morning, Boggs picked up his bat and faced live pitching for a few innings.

"It got those juices flowing again," he said. "When you're a retired player or a coach and you get a chance to get out there and compete, (you realize) that it's a part of the game that you miss the most."

Boggs said two years ago he had a chance to schmooze with some of the game's greats at a reunion of the members of the 3,000 hit club in Atlantic City. He said he was humbled then and expects to be just as wide-eyed tonight.

"I had to take a step back and say, "My God, look at the company I'm keeping,' " Boggs said of the reunion. "It gave me goose bumps. It's a close fraternity. You see old guys you played against and it's a nice feeling. It brings back a lot of great memories."

And how would he handle it if he didn't get a hit today?

"I'll be miserable."