ST. PETERSBURG -- Tropicana Field has its critics, but the Rays' home dome brings back fond memories of falling in love with baseball for Indians closer Chris Perez.
Standing inside the visitors' dugout, Perez looked up and pointed to the upper-deck seats situated high above the first-base line. That is where he took in Tampa Bay's inaugural game on March 31, 1998, when Perez was just 12 years old.
"I sat up there," Perez said. "I sat probably in section 312 or 313 -- all the way at the top. My uncle worked at Tropicana, so we got free tickets. Me and all my uncles and my dad went, and I skipped school."
Perez remembered that lefty Wilson Alvarez started for Tampa Bay in their season opener against Detroit. That was the first time Perez was in the seats for an official Major League Baseball game.
"They lost 11-1 or something like that," Perez said.
It wasn't that bad. The Devil Rays only lost, 11-6, to the Tigers.
Perez, who headed into Tuesday's game with 26 saves for Cleveland, grew up in nearby Bradenton, Fla., where his dad still lives. Perez attended plenty of Pirates' Spring Training games in Bradenton as a kid and he became a big White Sox fan when Chicago trained in Sarasota, Fla., before moving their preseason site to Arizona.
When the regular season arrived, it was the Rays who earned Perez's attention.
"We sat all over," said Perez, whose dad had season tickets. "I grew up watching expansion baseball in the AL East. Good luck. It's not like they were given any favors."