By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 23, 1999
ST. PETERSBURG -- He's had some experience with this sort of thing, so Wade Boggs knew precisely what to do. Thus, when the moment was right, he closed his eyes and let the tears roll.
They held Wade Boggs Day at Tropicana Field on Sunday and invited his memories to come along.
As he sat on the field watching a montage of his career on the stadium video screen, Boggs recalled a similar day in 1983 when Boston honored Carl Yastrzemski.
"I'll never forget that day as long as I live. Everybody was crying, it was very emotional. Now here it is (16) years later, it all came back," Boggs said. "That's all I could think of was when Yaz had his day and I was in the dugout crying.
"I'd thought, "Oh, my gosh, here's myself coming up as a young player in the big leagues and Yaz is going out. I wonder if I'll ever get to that point.' On August 22, 1999, I guess I did."
And so on Yastrzemski's 60th birthday Sunday, they came to honor Boggs. His family, his friends, his first minor-league manager, his first hitting coach and the scout who signed him.
Not to mention Ted Williams and more than 25,000 fans.
The Devil Rays bought him a custom-made, 19-foot fishing boat valued at $50,000. They presented his wife with a Waterford crystal diamond with a Rays logo on it. There were other gifts and other guests, but mostly there were memories.
Dick Berardino, who was Boggs' first manager at Class A Elmira in 1976, laughed about his first impressions of the skinny teenager from Tampa. He said Boggs looked to him like a Triple-A prospect or a marginal major-leaguer. Boggs hit .263 that summer without a home run.
Berardino said Boggs was among a handful of players who had a tough time leaving home and adapting to pro ball. Recalling Boggs' later superstitions regarding chicken dinners on game days, Berardino said that must have been the problem in "76.
"There weren't a lot of places to eat after games in those small towns, so the players used to eat a lot of McDonalds," Berardino said. "I told Wade, "The reason you didn't hit that well is because they hadn't invented Chicken McNuggets yet. You only had Big Macs. If they had Chicken McNuggets, you might have hit 100 points higher.' "
Williams also knew Boggs in the early years when the Hall of Famer would work as a spring training instructor for the Red Sox. Williams, who has been in failing health, told the Devil Rays several days ago that he would try to be there for Sunday's event. He was flown by helicopter from his Citrus County home and taken by limo to Tropicana Field.
"I don't go to too many places that I don't want to go to," Williams said. "I'm genuinely happy to be here."
Boggs said it was difficult for him to sleep Saturday night in anticipation of the ceremony. He compared it to a child the night before Christmas, except he was the only one getting presents.
Looking back over the previous two weeks -- homering for his 3,000th hit before a large hometown crowd, doubling in his first at-bat the next day and leaving to a standing ovation while his sister watched him play in person for the first time, starting the game-winning rally against Kansas City on a day named in his honor -- Boggs said he could not have planned it any better.
"It seems like it's been a storybook script," Boggs said. "It sort of seems fitting, like God was shining down on me and blessing me. He was gracious enough to let me be a part of all of this."