By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published July 31, 2005
I was proud to come back to Tampa Bay. I was very thankful to Mr. Naimoli for giving me that opportunity and being part of a foundation.
I felt I could contribute to the organization by being part of the foundation. Being an established veteran player to come play for an expansion team and sort of give a little bit of direction and guidance and input along the way, to do something and have a milestone on the horizon that the Devil Rays could market and look to.
Rather than Bobby Smith getting his first major-league hit, they wanted Wade Boggs to get his 3,000th. That was a little different.
Playing at home was so easy. It was probably something that I wouldn't have enjoyed as much early in my career.
I went home to play for two years. I got just as much enjoyment out of that as I probably would have staying in New York and winning two more World Series rings.
With the Rays, you didn't really know you were going to lose. You actually went to the ballpark with a positive attitude. You sort of knew you weren't going to the playoffs and World Series.
But it was at a point where we were going to battle each and every night and hopefully take two out of three or two out of four in a series and shoot for .500.
And we felt that if we could play .500, we would be respectable as an expansion club. But, you know, it just didn't work out.
I was totally healthy when the Devil Rays didn't pick up my option (after the 1999 season). I was totally healthy, and wanted to play, but I had to make the decision on whether this was time to hang it up and not go to the West Coast.
I had an offer from the Dodgers to sort of help Adrian Beltre and be a role player, a pinch-hitter and that type of thing, and I said, you know what? I've gone from a starter all my career to now be role player and a pinch-hitter?
I'll just take the front-office job for the Devil Rays.
But that was miserable. I was antsy all the time because now I was out of uniform, I was doing something, listening to Chuck say this and Chuck say that, and going around and making reports out and writing reports.
The job as hitting coach was more enjoyable because I was back in uniform. I was instructing. I love to teach and, granted, I have some philosophies that can be hard to understand, but once you start to gather and grasp the concepts, it becomes very easy. Anyone can grasp the concept, from a Russ Johnson to a Fred McGriff.
I found it kind of hard giving advice to hitters I had played with.
That was one of the difficult parts - I was a coach, but I was a teammate with 'em, and it was kind of hard in the beginning of separating those two, because I was still friends with these guys I played with and palled around with. Well, now, as a coach, you're not allowed to pal around with the players.
TOP FIVE MOMENTS WITH THE DEVIL RAYS
March 31, 1998. Who hit the first homer in Rays history? None other than Boggs, who hits a two-run shot in the sixth inning of the Rays' inaugural game off Detroit's Justin Thompson. The homer provides the first two runs in Rays history.
June 6, 1998. For not being a power hitter (Boggs had just 118 home runs in 18 seasons), he hit some notable homers. Boggs hits the Rays' first interleague homer against Montreal's Trey Moore.
Aug. 7, 1999. The most memorable moment of Boggs' career. He becomes the 23rd player in major-league history to record 3,000 hits. And he becomes the first to do it with a homer, blasting a sixth-inning shot off Cleveland's Chris Haney into the rightfield seats.
Aug. 27, 1999. No one knows it at the time, but an 0-for-3 performance at Cleveland is Boggs' swan song. A knee injury wipes out the rest of the season, then Boggs announces his retirement.
April 7, 2000. Boggs' No. 12 is retired. It's the first and, as of now, only number retired by the Devil Rays other than Jackie Robinson's 42, which is retired by all teams.