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A rooting interest, times three

Posted by Maureen Mullen October 16, 2008 05:51 AM

He had been accustomed to watching two of his former teams duke it out at this time of year. But Wade Boggs, veteran of the Red Sox, Yankees, and Devil Rays, was not accustomed to one of those teams being from Tampa Bay.

"When you've got new blood like Tampa Bay and various teams like that that make the playoffs, and a formidable old foe like Boston, which has won a couple of championships in the last five years, [it's fun]," said the Hall of Fame third baseman, who played two of his 18 seasons for the (then Devil) Rays. "It's nice to see the new kids on the block holding their own.

"It's nice because I was in on the ground floor, in 1998, and to see where they've come in 11 years is quite remarkable," said Boggs, who hit the franchise's first-ever home run for his first hit with the team. "To keep throwing up numbers the way they are this year, they've turned it around in 11 years, and now they're on the doorstep of going to the World Series.

"It just shows what 25 guys can do collectively that have one common focus. I think [Rays manager] Joe Maddon has really instilled that into all these guys that you don't need a payroll of $230 million to win a championship, and they've done it on basically bread and water."

As it was when the Sox and Yankees played into October, Boggs will root for the underdog in this American League Championship Series -- not necessarily the new kid on the block with the lower payroll, but the team that's trailing.

"Well, right now Boston's behind, so I guess that explains it right there," said Boggs, who also served as Tampa Bay's hitting coach in 2001. "But whether it's Tampa Bay, New York, or Boston, whoever's behind. You root for whoever's behind and you're never wrong. You have an opportunity for that team to come back and throw up some numbers and you're always rooting for the guy to pull it out."

Boggs lives in the Tampa area but has not attended any ALCS games. He recently returned from shooting an outdoors show that will debut in January. Still, this series features players he enjoys watching.

"I think when you look at [Dustin] Pedroia and [Evan] Longoria and guys like that, or the new crop of the young guys coming up," he said. "Naturally, [Kevin] Youkilis. He busts his tail all the time. I like the way he plays. I enjoy watching [Mike] Lowell play. He's the consummate professional."

Of today's players, he said, Youkilis reminds him most of himself.

"The blue-collar, carry-the-lunchpail type of player," said Boggs, a lifetime .328 hitter. "Go out and do your job and just keep battling. And the more and more he grows that beard, the more and more it looks like me in 1986. The only thing is I had hair and he didn't. So I have to take a double take when I look at him with that beard now."

The Monster's not so monstrous
After being acquired at the trading deadline, Jason Bay played left field in Fenway Park for 26 regular-season games, getting comfortable with the quirks of the Green Monster -- a relatively easy task, he said.

"It's pretty self-explanatory," said Bay, who's error-free so far on his new home field. "There's not a lot of room. So, if it's over my head, it's either a home run or back up off the wall for a double.

"I think it's a little more imposing [looking] than it is actually playing in front of it. There's just nowhere to go. It's either over your head or it's not. So you play fairly shallow. The only thing that gives you trouble is that high fly ball that's coming down, so you don't know if you need to back up. You don't want to back up and have it bounce on the warning track, or be there and have it hit the wall and fly by you and have the guy get a triple. So, that's really the only kind of iffy part.

"I go out there every day in batting practice, and [coach] DeMarlo [Hale] hits me balls off the wall, and the guys hit balls off the wall. And it's fairly self-explanatory as long as you kind of just, if it hits the wall you back off and then you throw the ball to second base nine times out of 10. And if you take that approach it's a little bit easier."

Easier than playing under the white roof of Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field. "It's not ideal [there], that's for sure," he said. "It wasn't as bad as people made it out to be, but it definitely wasn't easy."

Maureen Mullen covers the Red Sox for OT and can be reached at mmullen@globe.com

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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