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Boggs' Tampa Bay connections run deep

Future Hall of Famer remains loyal to the community where he spent much of his youth.

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 8, 1999


TAMPA -- When Kim Platz got the call last month, she couldn't believe what she was hearing. Of all the people she figured would come to the rescue of the Palma Ceia Little League, Wade Boggs was near the bottom of her list.

It was too much of a stretch, Platz thought, for a major-league star like Boggs to give his attention to a Little League's problems.

But Boggs was among the first to voluntarily pledge his help in rescuing the league after a fire destroyed much of its baseball and concession equipment. The Devil Rays' third baseman agreed to tape a TV public service announcement to solicit help from the community.

"It's incredible that he would do that for us, with him being a big guy like that. Just touching the small people around this Little League park," Platz said. "Wade Boggs is a part of this community. His grass roots are here and he cares about what happens to this community, and he is showing it.

"To be honest with you, even if this was not Palma Ceia that this happened to or a park that he used to play for, he would do this for any park (in Tampa Bay). He's such a great man that he would try to reach out and touch the kids everywhere."

Boggs stands as a part of baseball history after reaching 3,000 hits, but he has never strayed far from the Tampa community where he grew up. During his 18-year career in the big leagues, he has been a Red Sox, a Yankee and a Devil Ray, but he has always been a Tampa guy.

All those years he played in Boston and New York, he kept a home in Tampa during the off-season. He often returned here to rest and prepare for the next season, often working out at Plant High where he went to school.

"Wade is very loyal," said Robinson High assistant principal Dave Fyfe, who was Boggs' coach at Plant High. "He'd always come by before he left for the season and work with the kids, hit ground balls, throw BP and do all the things that coaches do."

Boggs is visible around town, not just at Tropicana Field on game days. He regularly participates in area charity golf tournaments and fishing events, and often makes appearances at auctions and galas. He did an AIDS benefit a few years ago at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

He has been an active resident, giving as much to the area as he receives from it. Two years before he came to the aid of the Palma Ceia Little League, Boggs was there to help his old principal at Plant High, Vince Sussman, when he was paralyzed by a fall at home.

Boggs headlined a group of athletes who signed autographs for two hours at West Shore Plaza to raise money for Sussman. And Boggs has periodically held autograph sessions since then to aid Sussman.

"I think he has a lot of pride in where he came from," said Eric Woolf, who grew up a few houses down from the Boggs family home. "There's a lot of baseball players in the majors from Hillsborough County and I think Wade is probably very much geared toward the tradition of baseball, that anything a professional player can do in terms of community service (he does), and just continuing a strong baseball tradition in Tampa."

Boggs' Tampa roots run deep, all the way back to elementary school. He basically grew up here, attending Gorrie Elementary, Wilson Middle School and Plant.

He has kept in contact with scores of people around town and almost always stops to chat with local people from his past.

Eric Woolf said his most memorable Boggs hits didn't occur at the ballpark, but rather in Ms. Ferguson's physics class at Plant. He used to sit several rows in front of Boggs, who had a habit of hitting him in the back of the head with paper wads.

"It was a lot of fun," Woolf said.

Boggs still works out sometimes with the Plant High baseball team. He does much of his off-season training with guys he played with as youngsters. And he throws a Christmas party every year at his Tampa Palms home and invites loads of Tampa people he's known for decades.

Sure, to the baseball world, Boggs is an elite performer. But to people around this town, Boggs is still ... well, Boggs.

"I see the same Wade now that I saw in high school," said Fyfe, a regular at Boggs' Christmas parties. "He still works hard. At Plant, I'd always have to get to practice real early to set everything up, but I never beat Wade to practice. He was always there before me, usually swinging a bat. He was very mature back then. He was just a great kid who turned into a great adult."

Boggs is so popular in Tampa, he could run for mayor, but his post-baseball days likely don't include politics, his friends said.

But, no matter what Boggs does after his playing days, several people around town said Boggs will almost certainly never leave Tampa. For Boggs, home has always meant more than just the city where you live.

"Home is home, no matter whether you live in Siberia or Tampa," said Mark Rosenthal, who played on the same Palma Ceia-Bayshore senior league team as Boggs. "Wade likes it here, and he's a great, great representative of Tampa.

"I don't think you'll ever see him move out to L.A. and live in a big high-rise. He's a Tampa guy, and I think he will be the rest of his life."

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