Wade Boggs: Hometown Boy To Devil Rays Legend
When Wade Boggs signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on December 9, 1997, it was an instant boost of credibility, as a perennial All Star and established veteran in the world of Major League Baseball signed on with one of the two new expansion teams coming into the league.
However, there was more to the story than just a baseball signing. Boggs graduated from Plant High School in Tampa in 1986 and his primary residence was in the Tampa Palms region of Tampa. He even owned and operated a fish farm, starting in 1986, called Finway, just south of Hawthorne, FL with his father.
Tampa was in Boggs’ blood, and he was fixing to end his career with the upstart Devil Rays franchise. Who knew he would have two seminal moments in franchise history? On March 31, 1998, the Devil Rays started their inaugural season at Tropicana Field against the Detroit Tigers. Tampa Bay was down 11-0 in the bottom of the sixth, thanks to scoring outbursts by Detroit in the second, third, and fifth innings. Justin Thompson was lights out through five. Then, #12 stepped up to the plate. With a 2-2 count and Quentin McCracken on first, Boggs, in crouched stance, drove a line drive off the lefty Thompson to right field. Off the barrel of the bat, Boggs’ natural power helped take the ball into the sixth row, making him the first man to hit a home run in the incredibly short life of the Tampa Bay franchise.
Boggs’ home run on March 31, 1998 also signified his 110th of his career, as well as his 2,801 hit all-time. Although the Devil Rays’ comeback fell just short 11-6, the Wade Boggs round tripper was a feel-good for all fans of the fledging franchise.
However, that fell in comparison to August 7, 1999 for both the franchise and the veteran third baseman. It was 494 days and 198 hits later, and Boggs found himself at the plate against left handed pitcher Chris Haney in the bottom of the sixth. The Devil Rays were in the middle of a figurative shootout with the Cleveland Indians, down 11- 7. With a 2-2 count and Terrell Lowery on first, Boggs took a Haney fastball to right field. Off the barrel of the bat, Boggs’ natural power helped take the fly ball 10 rows deep into the ecstatic Tropicana Field stands, not only cutting the Indians lead to 11-9, but making a boatload of history in the process.
Wade Boggs became the first man to hit a home run for his 3000th hit. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez both did it a decade later with the Yankees. More importantly, it was big for the Devil Rays franchise. The fan base had its first true hero and really took in what the hometown boy gave to them in the first two seasons of its existence.
August 7, 1999 was the date of Boggs’ last home run in Major League history and 10 hits later, Boggs went down with a debilitating knee injury that ended his season. At 41, he decided to call it a career at the end of the 1999 campaign.
Wade Boggs ended his professional playing days with a career .328 batting average, totaling up 3010 hits, 118 home runs, 1014 RBIs, and 1513 runs scored. However, his two monumental home runs in Devil Rays history live on.
In both spots where Boggs’ home runs landed in right field, two yellow chairs stand out in a sea of blue, both marked with a metal plate documenting the accomplishments. Also, on April 7, 2000, the Devil Rays retired #12, forever etching Boggs’ short, but memorable tenure in Tampa Bay into immortality.
In a time of uncertainty for Tampa Bay baseball, reliving the glory days of the beginning of the Devil Rays is a positive thing for the fan base.
Wade Boggs’ two big home runs in Tampa Bay’s first two seasons is the perfect example of a hometown boy done good. Plus, it was a tremendous way for Boggs to retire from baseball: by giving moments back to a community that helped develop him into a superstar athlete.
Florida deserves the Devil Rays and Wade Boggs’ memories need to be preserved forever.
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