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1998 Devil Rays reunion brings back more than memories

The Rays celebrated the 20th anniversary of their first game.,
“My butterflies were probably the size of condors,” Hall of Famer, Plant High product and original Devil Ray Wade Boggs says at the reunion of the 1998 team. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
“My butterflies were probably the size of condors,” Hall of Famer, Plant High product and original Devil Ray Wade Boggs says at the reunion of the 1998 team. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Apr. 1, 2018
Updated Apr. 1, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG – Wilson Alvarez remembered the tears.

"A lot of things went through my mind that day," Alvarez said. "Too many emotions. I cried too, I'm not going to lie. I admit it, I cried like a kid."

Wade Boggs remembered the feeling in his stomach as he drove to Tropicana Field from his Tampa home.

"My butterflies were probably the size of condors," Boggs said.

Mike DiFelice remembered standing on the base line realizing how much bigger this was than just a normal opening day.

"This was the beginning of a brand new organization,"  DiFelice said. "This day was going to be remembered forever. Our team was going to be remembered forever."

Saturday, they got to share those memories, the first reunion of the first Devil Rays team that played the first game, fittingly 20 years ago, on March 31, 1998.

Related: 10 things you didn't know about the inaugural team

Alvarez, DiFelice, Boggs and 15 others from that first ever team were there, some looking more familiar – and athletic – than others, along with coaches Orlando Gomez and Greg Riddoch, GM Chuck LaMar and managing general partner Vince Naimoli, among others.

Players shuttled happily to the requisite appearances and events with fans around the Trop, including Alvarez re-creating his historic first pitch – and throwing a strike this time.

Even more so,  the players were clearly happy to see other, taking time to take photos together, sign caps, trade cellphone numbers and swap stories  – some they could share publicly.

The best? Probably DiFelice recounting seeing legendary bench coach Frank Howard "working out" one day – wearing just a jock strap, with a 25-pound weight in one hand and a cigarette in one hand. "And he just looked up and said, 'How you doing, young champion?'"

Some of the '98ers remain close, and still live in the Tampa Bay area, such as pitchers Roberto Hernandez and Rolando Arrojo, plus infielder Aaron Ledesma, pitcher Bryan Rekar, infielder Miguel Cairo and DiFelice.

Others live far away, such as Rich Butler, who runs a baseball academy near Toronto; Dennis Springer, a fireman in California; and Tony Saunders, in private business near Baltimore, and hadn't seen the Trop or their old mates in, well, 20 years.

Among the missing who had to work were manager Larry Rothschild (Yankees pitching coach), catcher John Flaherty (Yankees TV broadcaster), first baseman Fred McGriff (Braves special assistant), shortstop Kevin Stocker (Phillies/college baseball broadcaster), outfielder Dave Martinez (Nationals manager).

Hernandez said there was so much to take from that first game, an 11-6 loss,  and that 63-99 season.

"The memories will last forever – though sometimes they may be exaggerated,"  he said. "The bond and the relationships we've all built are going to last a lifetime."