Opening Day is always special because it is the start of the new season; the (Devil) Rays have had some exciting moments that live up to the O.D. hype. Let’s review:
1998 - The First Game
On March 31st, 1998 the Tampa Bay Devil Rays played their first ever regular season game before a sold out crowd at Tropicana Field. Baseball legends threw out the ceremonial first pitch and when it came time for the game to commence, veteran LHP Wilson Alvarez threw a first pitch ball to Brian Hunter of the Detroit Tigers.
Dave Martinez provided the club with their first hit.
Wade Boggs later would bash the team’s first home run.
2000 - The Hit Show Arrives
During the 1999-2000 off-season, the Rays went spending crazy as they brought in a couple of star sluggers from the National League to form a threatening lineup that consisted of Greg Vaughn, Vinny Castilla, Fred McGriff, and Jose Canseco, the group would be famously dubbed as ‘The Hit Show’.
On Opening Day in 2000, things looked great as the Rays took on the Twins in Minneosta. Gerald Williams led off the game with a home run for Tampa Bay, and the team cruised as they shut out the Twins, 7-0. Fred McGriff provided the big blow as he launched a grand slam.
2003 - The Comeback
In 2003 the Rays were coming off a putrid 2002 season in which they lost 106 games. Things were bleak, but a fresh new wave of prospects were about to make their mark in franchise lore.
Carl Crawford, who debuted during the 2002 season, would provide the team with one of their most exciting moments during the Devil Rays era.
On Opening Day in 2003, the Rays trailed 4-1, entering the bottom of the ninth.
Terry Shumpert launched a two run homer to make a one run game, and then with two outs and two runners on, Carl Crawford golfed a pitch into the right field stands for a dramatic three run, walkoff home run.
2010 - Carl Crawford plays the hero once again
Carl Crawford blasted a walkoff HR on his first Opening Day with the Rays, and he would drill a walkoff single in his last Opening Day with the Rays.
Tampa Bay trailed 3-2 in the 9th, the bases were loaded with 1 out for the Rays longest tenured player. Crawford would a 1-0 pitch and line it into right field, bringing two runs home and giving the Rays another walkoff victory.
2012 - Carlos Pena’s Grand Return
Carlos Pena is a Rays legend. He came to to the team in 2007 and proceeded to destroy the team’s single season offensive records. From 2008 to 2010, he would serve as one of the team’s leaders as they made the playoffs two of those three seasons.
He left as a free agent following the 2010 campaign, but re-signed prior to the 2012 season.
For his return on Opening Day in 2012, Pena received a standing ovation before his first plate appearance, then made Tropicana Field erupt as he belted a grand slam.
Later on in the game, he would provide more theatrics as he provided the Rays with yet another thrilling Opening Day walkoff victory.
Perhaps Opening Day 2018 will provide us with new indelible memories. Stay tuned.