ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Two seats glow like golden eyes in the outfield at Tropicana Field, in stark contrast to the sea of royal blue surrounding them. Two seats, representing the Rays' two most extraordinary homers.
Two seats, made memorable by one man.
And who better than Tampa Bay's native son, Wade Boggs, to have done the honors?
It was August 1999, the Hall of Famer's 18th and final season of baseball. He'd played just 90 games that season because of age and an ailing left knee, but he was on a quest for his 3,000th hit, and he was determined not to fall short after he'd come so far.
"Going into the weekend, I knew I needed three hits to reach 3,000," Boggs recalled. "I got stuck on 2,999 for what seemed like the longest time. Really, the thing that popped into my head was [Twins Hall of Famer] Paul Molitor. He hit a triple for his 3,000th. No one had ever done that."
It was a thought Boggs kept with him, and the first thing that popped into his head on Aug. 7, as he watched his 3,000th hit sail into the bleachers. The blast was good for a two-run homer off Cleveland's Chris Haney, and it made Boggs the only player ever to homer for his 3,000th career hit.
"It flashed into my head," admitted Boggs after an emotional trip around the bases that included pointing to the heavens as he rounded second base in a tribute to his late mother. He bent down to kiss home plate and was then mobbed by a group of players and family who'd been anxiously awaiting his arrival.
"It was a pretty special home run. And I think, until someone hits the game-winning homer to bring home the Rays' first World Series, that'll probably stand [as the best]."
Boggs isn't immune to the irony of the hit: Never known for his power, in 18 years, he'd hit just 118 long balls. They accounted for just .04 percent of his career hits.
"If anybody asked," he quipped, "it wouldn't have come down to a homer."
But it did. What made the moment even more special was that Tampa native Mike Hogan, who caught the ball, returned it to Boggs afterward.
Boggs knew that a souvenir of that magnitude could have probably fetched a hefty sum on eBay, so he showed his gratitude to Hogan by giving him a bat, jersey and season tickets to the Rays. The ball is now proudly on display in Boggs' home in Tampa.
With that memorable homer, the Rays third baseman became the 23rd player to reach the 3,000-hit milestone. It also marked the second time in as many days that a player had hit his 3,000th, as Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn had joined the elite club just one day prior.
To honor Boggs' accomplishment, the Rays painted the seat where his homer landed, in Section 144, gold. It's identical to a seat just two sections to the left, in the same row, that Boggs also can take credit for.
"I think a lot of people forget that I hit the first homer in Devil Rays history," he said. "I hit a couple that were pretty monumental as far as the Devil Rays are concerned."
That first one came on March 31, 1998. Boggs had signed as a free agent just four months earlier, with the intention of retiring in his hometown. Forty-one years old at the time, he still had a little magic left.
He drove in three runs that day, but the one he'll remember the most was the solo homer.
It was the sixth inning, and the Rays were behind in a game they'd eventually lose to the Tigers, 11-6. But Boggs still managed to make the day special, lifting a Justin Thompson pitch into the seats in Section 148.
"That day was special," he remembered. "It was very special to have."
Boggs also passed Babe Ruth's career hits total -- 2,873 -- with a home run, but that's a story for another day.
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less