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Devil Rays Emphasize Entertainment

April 8, 1999

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ To heck with tradition. The Tampa Devil Rays want to make sure games at Tropicana Field are lots of fun, too _ even if it means resorting to cheap theatrics.

So, fans attending Friday night’s home opener against the Boston Red Sox will be greeted by a midget, and more than 2,500 people will help the ceremonial pitch along a two-hour trek to home plate.

For celebrities, the Devil Rays have invited actor Bill Murray, Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Larry Doby and the renowned Florida A&M Marching 100 band.

Beanie Babies make their 1999 debut on Saturday, and you can catch home-run king Hank Aaron, too, if you stick around for the finale of the three-game series.

The hiring of 3-foot-2 Dave Flood, who calls himself Dave the Dwarf, was the idea of Devil Rays marketing chief Mike Veeck, whose father shook up the American League by sending 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to bat in a game for the St. Louis Browns 48 years ago.

But unlike Bill Veeck’s midget, Flood’s duties will be limited to off-the-field activities and promotions that include portraying the character Coco Lopez, Beach Bum, while interacting with fans in ``The Beach″ seating section of the domed stadium.

The non-rostered position was assigned uniform No. 3.2 in keeping with Veeck’s ``Off The Wall″ marketing campaign, designed to make games more fun as the Devil Rays try to improve on last year’s 63-99 finish.

``When the first pitch is thrown, (major-league baseball) becomes sacrosanct,″ Mike Veeck said. ``But the two hours before and the hour after that, it’s not written in stone that it has to be by the book, if there is such a book ... Underneath this cheap theatrical goof is the heart of a traditionalist.″

Doby, the first black to play in the American League when he was signed by Bill Veeck, will throw out the first pitch Friday night after receiving the ball from the 2,500-plus fans expected to pass it along a route through downtown St. Petersburg.

Aaron, who’s celebrating the 25th anniversary of moving past Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list, will initiate a reading program for children and throw out the first pitch Sunday.

Players also will find changes at Tropicana Field, most noticeably that the outfield walls in the power alleys of the hitter-friendly park have been moved back 10 1/2 feet to 370 feet.

The Devil Rays also will unveil the Wade Boggs Count Board, which will keep track of the third baseman’s pursuit of 3,000 career hits. The Wade Boggs Seat, in the third row of a section in right field, marks the spot where Boggs hit the first home run in team history.

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