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09/29/08 4:30 PM ET

First Rays employee to throw first pitch

Game 1 honors goes to Higgins, along with franchise faithful

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays announced on Monday morning that the ceremonial first pitches for the first two American League Division Series games will be thrown out by the Rays' first employee, John Higgins, and 2008 United States Ryder Cup Champion captain Paul Azinger.

Higgins, a longtime resident of St. Petersburg, will throw out the first pitch before Game 1, which is slated for a 2:30 p.m. ET start time at Tropicana Field. Higgins will be accompanied by many of the other 51 Rays employees who have been with the organization since its inaugural season in 1998. Many of these honorees have been with the franchise since its founding in 1995.

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"The hard work and dedication by our entire organization have enabled us to reach this extraordinary moment," Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg said. "The ceremonial first pitch for our first-ever postseason game is a fitting tribute to their contributions.'

Higgins has practiced law in the Tampa Bay area since 1979, specializing in corporate, commercial and real estate law. For three years, he represented Vince Naimoli and the rest of the Tampa Bay ownership group in its efforts to acquire a Major League Baseball franchise. He currently serves as the Rays senior vice president.

"As a lifelong resident of this community, I am honored to represent not only the Rays employees who have played such an important part in attaining this success, but also the fans who have remained steadfast in their support over the past eleven years," Higgins said.

Azinger will throw out the first pitch prior to Friday night's Game 2, which is slated to start at 6:00 p.m. ET

A longtime Bradenton, Fla., resident, Azinger has won 14 worldwide professional championships since becoming a Tour professional in 1981. Shortly after the 1993 Ryder Cup, Azinger was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in his right shoulder. Azinger overcame his battle with cancer and became a Tour winner for the 12th time in his career with an emotional victory at the 2000 Sony Open in Hawaii.

"This is very special for me," Azinger said. "I've been a Rays fan since the inception of the franchise and attend games at Tropicana Field as often as I can. This year's Rays club shows what a team with talent, character and faith can do."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.