ST. PETERSBURG -- Three of the four skippers who have managed the Rays in their short history were in uniform at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night.

Four men have managed the Rays since Tropicana Field opened its doors in 1998: Larry Rothschild (1998-2001), Hal McRae (2001-2002), Lou Piniella (2003-2005), and Joe Maddon (2006-present).

Of that group, only McRae, who is a coach with the Cardinals, was not present as the Cubs arrived to begin a three-game series against the Rays.

"It feels great to be back," said Piniella, who now manages the Cubs. "It really does, it's always great going back to my hometown area, visiting friends and seeing my family. Yeah, it's a lot of fun for me."

Piniella is impressed by what's going on for the Rays this season.

"I'll tell you this, Tampa Bay's been playing very well at home," Piniella said. "I think we'd rather tackle them at Wrigley. But here we are. We look forward to playing against them and hopefully we'll do well here.

"But I'm very excited about being home and I'm very happy to see that this team across the way is playing well. And they're in competition for their division, and I wish them well, after we play them, for the rest of the year."

Piniella isn't surprised about the direction the team is headed.

"We had a nucleus of good young kids here," Piniella said of his tenure in St. Petersburg. "There were areas, obviously, that the organization needed to get better at, and they have, to their credit. They've done a nice job.

"I wish them well, I really do. I look forward to the time when I'm out of baseball and I come in here and watch this team play, and play well. I'm very happy for them, but at the same time, we're going to come in here and compete as well as we can and win as many games as we can."

For Rothschild, who is the Cubs' pitching coach, he entered Tropicana Field for the first time since being let go early in the 2001 season.

"You want them to do well," Rothschild said. "I live [in Tampa] and it would be nice to have a team here that does well."

Rothschild managed the Rays in their expansion year, and did not gripe about the talent level of the team that played under him.

"You do the best you can," Rothschild said. "Now they've gotten some real nice young players and they've developed some pitching. Any organization that does that is going to be in good shape. The young players have started to develop and come through the system, and that's what's made the difference for them."

Rothschild has enjoyed working with Piniella in Chicago. The two had previously worked together when Piniella managed the Reds.

"It's been great," Rothschild said. "He's brought a little different culture [to Chicago]. It obviously means some wins. You know, we won the division last year, and we're trying to do it again this year."

Rothschild said the Rays are a tough team to prepare for.

"Interleague can be tough," Rothschild said. "You can watch tapes and get reports from people, but until you see it, it's a little different. And once you see it against your guys, then you have a better understanding. They're a good team, so any good teams you've got to prepare for them. You've got to prepare for any team, but a team that has different ways to beat you, you've got to be really aware of them."

Maddon looked forward to talking to both former Rays manager prior to the game.