CHICAGO -- Cliff Floyd loved growing up in a two-team town. The only problem was that the Chicago Cubs games were primarily played in the afternoon, when Floyd was either in a classroom studying or on a ballfield dreaming.

By the time young Cliff made it home, his only option on most nights was to turn on his television and watch the White Sox. Floyd began to study and idolize Chicago's Harold Baines, imitating the slugger's swing and pretending to be in the big leagues.

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Roughly two decades later, Floyd is now in his 16th season in the Major Leagues, providing a veteran presence for a relatively young Rays squad. Come Sunday, Floyd will be back at U.S. Cellular Field on Chicago's South Side -- not far from his old stomping grounds -- taking on the White Sox in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

"Sometimes you've got to pinch yourself," Floyd said with a smile.

The 35-year-old Floyd has played an important role in Tampa Bay's surprising run this season, and his contributions haven't been limited to the playing field. Inside the Rays' clubhouse, Floyd provides a calming influence for some of the less experienced players in the room.

Floyd has been through the playoffs, he was a highly touted first-round Draft pick, and has endured his fair share of injuries. Floyd's career path has made him Tampa Bay's resident expert on the way the game works -- a guide for the young up-and-comers who share the dugout with him.

"I've just been through it all," Floyd said. "I've been through a lot and I know what they're going through. If I hadn't been through it, I probably couldn't be that for them. So I just try to allow them to relax."

Floyd can sometimes come across as a type of father figure among the Rays.

At Tropicana Field, B.J. Upton's locker sits a few stalls away from Floyd's, and the young outfielder has made sure to spend a lot of time picking the veteran's brain throughout this season. Here inside the visitors' clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field, the two have adjoining lockers.

The 24-year-old Upton said that's by design.


"This is what you dream for as a kid, getting this opportunity."
-- Cliff Floyd

"His locker is always close to mine," Upton said. "He's been unbelievable. I know that he's helped me out a lot on and off the field. Any time you can have a guy like him around that's been around the game, and been in some pressure situations in the postseason, you can't say enough about him."

Floyd fully embraces the leadership role that welcomed him after signing a one-year contract with the Rays prior to this season.

In accepting that responsibility, Floyd has kept lessons learned from his father, Cornelius Clifford Floyd Sr. -- known as "Big Flood" -- close to heart. Cliff Sr. past away in August last year, shortly before his son, playing for the Cubs at the time, made it to the postseason with one of the hometown teams they used to watch together.

Floyd grew up in Markham -- a south suburb of Chicago -- and was a standout three-sport athlete at Thornwood High School, which is only a short drive from U.S. Cellular Field. On Sunday, Floyd expects to have a dozen or so family and friends to be in the stands.

His father will be in his thoughts.

"The one thing he ever taught me was just respect," Floyd said. "Respect people. Whether they're 20 years old or 19, however old they are, just respect people. That's one thing I've taken a long way in my career. I've grown up and understood how I'm supposed to conduct myself and I respect people as I go along the way."

In turn, Floyd has gained the respect of his teammates.

"He's been big," Rays rookie Evan Longoria said. "Any kind of veteran player that we can get in this clubhouse, especially with the amount of young players that we have, it just gives me somebody to talk to and ask about getting through certain tough situations."

That being the case, Floyd could be one reason why the Rays have made this postseason thing look easy.

The broad-shouldered designated hitter has a World Series ring from 1997, when he captured baseball's top crown with the Florida Marlins. In each of the past three seasons, Floyd has made it to the playoffs: with the Mets in 2006, the Cubs in '07 and now with the Rays.

Having a chance to play on the South Side in October just makes this latest trip that much sweeter.

"This is what you dream for as a kid, getting this opportunity," Floyd said. "To be on this team and to be playing on the South Side against the White Sox -- I grew up watching this team more than I did the Cubs, so it's a thrill for me, it really is."