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Rays honor 20 years by walking Memory Lane

Team welcomes players from inaugural 1998 squad in pregame ceremony
MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETERSBURG -- Memory Lane was real at Tropicana Field on Saturday night prior to the Rays-Red Sox contest.

Twenty years had passed since the inaugural Devil Rays game was played on March 31, 1998, and a celebration of that first game took place during the pregame, which included 20 players and coaches from that first team.

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Memory Lane was real at Tropicana Field on Saturday night prior to the Rays-Red Sox contest.

Twenty years had passed since the inaugural Devil Rays game was played on March 31, 1998, and a celebration of that first game took place during the pregame, which included 20 players and coaches from that first team.

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Wade Boggs looked around at his teammates from 1998 and chuckled.

"These guys were in their 20s," Boggs said. "I turned 40 that season."

Tweet from @RaysBaseball: 5:08pm 3/31/1998The first pitch in Tampa Bay Devil Rays history is thrown. #Rays20 pic.twitter.com/bhXR5kkGnt

Esteban Yan talked with his Dominican countryman, Alex Colome, whom Yan has known since Colome was hip-high to him. That's because Yan and Colome's uncle, Jesus Colome, were teammates on the 1998 Rays team.

Yan was the first pitcher in team history to homer -- doing so June 4, 2000, against the Mets at Shea Stadium. Of course, the Great Yan pulled out his iPhone to show a video of the epic blast.

Colome chuckled watching Yan circle the bases like he hit home runs on a daily basis.

Other players and coaches from that first team who were on hand included Wilson Alvarez, Rolando Arrojo, Rich Butler, Miguel Cairo, Mike DiFelice, Rick Gorecki, Roberto Hernandez, Aaron Ledesma, Albie Lopez, Quinton McCracken, Bryan Rekar, Tony Saunders, Bobby Smith, Dennis Springer, Randy Winn, Orlando Gomez and Greg Riddoch.

The players were introduced prior to the start of the game, as were five members of the original ownership group, including Vince Naimoli and the team's original general manager, Chuck LaMar.

Tweet from @RaysBaseball: 20 years of Rays baseball. #Rays20 // https://t.co/ft9mMlxkiY pic.twitter.com/qwcYG5aRaw

Larry Rothschild, who managed that inaugural squad, could not attend since he is the Yankees' pitching coach. John Flaherty, who caught the first pitch, was also unable to attend.

Talk about baseball royalty: Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Al Lopez, and Monte Irvin threw out the ceremonial first pitches prior to that 1998 first game. Minutes later, at 5:08 p.m. EST, Major League baseball was born in Tampa Bay as Alvarez delivered a ball against Tigers leadoff hitter Brian Hunter.

"It was a dream come true, Opening Day, first pitch, too many emotions," Alvarez said. "It was great."

Like that first game, Alvarez threw the ceremonial first pitch on Saturday. DiFelice, subbing for Flaherty, caught the pitch, and former Major League umpire Richie Garcia, who was behind the plate for the game in 1998, called the pitch a strike.

The Rays fell behind 11-0 in that inaugural contest before Boggs got the Devil Rays on the scoreboard with a two-run homer en route to an 11-6 loss.

"We had the mentality that we wanted to play the game the right way," Hernandez said. "We prepared the right way. We had the mentality that we were going to try to win. We were prepared to win."

Being prepared to win did not lead to wins. The 1998 Devil Rays went 63-99 during a season they were outscored 751-620. Still, the inaugural team is one that will not be soon forgotten.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.

Tampa Bay Rays