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.
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."
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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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