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Chance to re-live history of 1998 Devil Rays inaugural game is special

Rays Tales: Memories are still strong for players from that first game, which is being re-broadcast on Monday.
The first-ever Devil Rays Major League Baseball game at St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field was March 31, 1998.
The first-ever Devil Rays Major League Baseball game at St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field was March 31, 1998. [ Times photo (1998) ]
Published Apr. 18, 2020|Updated Apr. 19, 2020

It’s not often you get to knowingly be part of history ahead of time.

But for the players and staff on the first Devil Rays team, that was exactly the situation heading into the franchise’s inaugural game March 31, 1998.

Fox Sports Sun is providing a chance to share in that history again, showing the game Monday (noon, 7 p.m., midnight) as part of its programming with the 2020 season on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Trop will look a little different, with 45,369 fans, old-school artificial turf and green outfield walls. Dewayne Staats is on the call, but joined by Joe Magrane.

We checked in with three players from the Devil Rays’ lineup on what they remember about that historic day, an 11-6 loss in which everyone won.

Related: Rays, Lightning TV crews upset that no games means no pay from Sinclair Broadcast Group

John Flaherty, catcher

“There was so much anticipation and excitement about being part of something that was just beginning. There were so many things that were unknown and it was going to be fun to see what it all looked like and to see where it was going to go.

“I will never forget going out to do my pre-game sprints and the Trop was packed and the fans were pumped. I remember the first pitch (low and inside from Wilson Alvarez to Brian Hunter, with ump Richie Garcia handing the ball to a team official.) Pretty amazing catching the first pitch in a team’s history."

Fred McGriff, first baseman

“That day was special in the sense that living here in Tampa my whole life, knowing how hard the area had been trying to get a team, and finally they did. And being from Tampa and playing in front of many friends from the area was a big difference for me."

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Miguel Cairo, second baseman

"It was probably one of the most exciting days of my life. Plus, I was 23 years old and preparing to make my first opening day start on a field with players like Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Wilson Alvarez, and Roberto Hernandez. It was a dream come true to be able to play a game that I love beside these superstars.''

Wade Boggs, third baseman

“The excitement was through the roof, no pun intended. Driving across the bridge after going through spring training with a new organization and being from Tampa — I grew up here, I played Little League here — and coming back to start a franchise was really exciting.

“Taking (batting practice) with the amount of people at the ballpark that day was incredible. I heard all the things growing up about all the teams coming to Tampa Bay, and nothing ever came to fruition. And now here it is. Wow! Tampa has a team and I’m on the ground floor being part of that. …

“It was a losing effort, but I think it was a win-win for the bay area. No one really looked up at the scoreboard at that final tally. It was more of that, wow, baseball finally arrived in Tampa Bay, and what a great feeling."

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Kiermaier pitches to Tom Brady

Kevin Kiermaier tweeted a welcome to new Bucs quarterback Tom Brady and offered a hand: “Whenever the time is right and you need a 2008 all state-free safety/current centerfielder to run some crisp routes to prepare you, lemme know. … (It) will make my cardio much more enjoyable!" … Kiermaier and wife Marissa were to be honored last week for their contributions to the Children’s Dream Fund, and pledged via Twitter to continue their support “regardless of what happens with all this crazy stuff going on!"

Related: Wade Boggs wonders if he had coronavirus, got it from Red Sox ace Chris Sale

Rays rumblings

Tyler Glasnow edged Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard to flow into the final four of MLB Network Radio’s Best Hair in Baseball voting, squaring off with the Dodgers Dustin May to get to the — sorry! — “mane” event. … Here’s hoping other Rays follow the doubleheader kind gesture by Ryan and Nicole Yarbrough, supporting a local business (Buddy Brew coffee) and helping healthcare workers (sending breakfast to St. Joseph’s Hospital). … Baseball America’s latest mock draft has the Rays using the 24th pick on Miami right-hander Chris McMahon. … Blake Snell, second choice by the oddsmakers to Texas’ Joey Gallo, is off to a 10-2 start in the MLB The Show Players League online video game tournament. … Yarbrough said his biggest quarantine change has been letting teammate (and current roommate) Shane McClanahan get him into competitive video gaming. … No matter what plans are considered for starting the season with no fans, the bigger issue may be owners getting players to agree to pay cuts. … Angels manager Joe Maddon talked about the Rays a bit in a recent video chat, restating his strong belief that a new stadium needs to be in Tampa, noting Kevin Cash’s good work and praising Stuart Sternberg’s ownership group and top staff: “Such a great product. Could not be more proud of being an alumni there. … Wonderful people." … Lots of ifs, but a fangraphs.com projection of a potential 108-game season in the Arizona-Florida realignment by spring sites had the Rays and Braves tying for the “Grapefruit South” division at 61-47, the Twins a game back. … Tampa’s Pete Alonso, the Mets slugger, joined the All-In Challenge, offering a chartered fishing trip in his hometown, transportation, hotel and memorabilia; see fanatics.com. … In what could be commonplace given the question of whether there even will be a minor-league season if games have to be played with no fans, Triple-A Durham last week furloughed more than half its front-office staff. Big-league teams could soon make staff cuts also. … In seeking baseball programming, ESPN is talking about showing games from Taiwan and, assuming play begins as planned, South Korea, plus possibly some of the players tournament ... Lakeland product Steve Pearce, who spent part of 2016 with the Rays, made official his retirement, with the distinction of playing for all five AL East teams.

For starters

The Devil Rays’ starting lineup from the inaugural game:

Quinton McCracken, CF

Miguel Cairo, 2B

Wade Boggs, 3B

Fred McGriff, 1B

Mike Kelly, LF

Paul Sorrento, DH

John Flaherty, C

Dave Martinez, RF

Kevin Stocker, SS

Wilson Alvarez, P

Larry Rothschild, manager

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