THANKS, JOE! Community celebrates Maddon’s milestones, philanthropy

December 18, 2016

By Amanda Christman | Standard-Speaker

All it took was 108 years and a man from Hazleton.

And for that, Joe Maddon, the Chicago Cubs’ winning manager, was celebrated in his hometown Saturday night. The win under Maddon’s leadership broke the Cubs’ 108-year streak without a championship title.

The celebration came during Maddon’s annual hometown visit where he raises money for his brainchild, the Hazleton Integration Project’s (HIP) Hazleton One Community Center. It’s the same visit where he and volunteers provide holiday meals for the less fortunate.

He was honored by government officials during the evening at the center he visualized and by the children whose lives are guided there every day.

Speakers offered Maddon proclamations celebrating his life and work, both on and off the playing field, including his humanitarian efforts they say helped unite cultures in greater Hazleton.

But among the citations and well-wishes was a heartfelt thank you from the students attending the center on East Fourth Street along with a question-and-answer session Maddon held with the youngest fans in attendance.

It was the first time Hazleton’s Joe Melo, 11 and his sister, Jiliana Melo, 6, met Maddon.

It was the first time they met anyone in Major League Baseball.

They waited quietly in chairs for the program to start, Joe in a suit and Jiliana in a purple dress.

Once the program began, Joe was one of two students who spoke to Maddon on stage before an audience which nearly packed the center’s gymnasium. Melo barely reached the podium’s microphone but stood there strong thanking Maddon for the work he’s done in Hazleton. Melo has attended the Hazleton One Community Center for two years, he said, and enjoys the learning experiences he has there where new opportunities await him every day.

Another youngster also thanked Maddon for giving her a safe place to come to, one where she made new friends. Maddon embraced both of them after they finished speaking from the stage’s top podium.

Not long later Maddon could be found inching to the stage’s edge as children lined up with questions.

One boy wanted to know if Maddon named the team the Cubs. Relying on local humor, Maddon got a chuckle from the hometown crowd when he told the child he didn’t get to name the team but if he did, he would have chose the Mountaineers, the mascot and name he played under while attending Hazleton High School in the early 1970s.

Asked who his favorite baseball team was growing up in Hazleton, Maddon quickly said the St. Louis Cardinals after his father bought him a hat during a baseball game at Yankee Stadium.

Layla Hernandez wanted to know where he enjoys spending his time, Chicago or Florida. Maddon, laughing a little, said in the winter, Florida but in the summer Chicago features a beautiful landscape with equally beautiful people who often remind him of the people in his hometown.

The children’s direct questions culled out of Maddon that he began playing baseball at 6 years old and it was at that time when he realized he always wanted to play ball professionally. He did for a time before finding his way to coaching.

“It’s awesome. It’s the best,” he said of managing.

Maddon told George Garcia, one of the questioners, he played ball on 17th Street in Hazleton and at 6 years old saw his first “demoralizing” curveball. At that moment he thought he couldn’t play baseball ever again but he kept at it and followed his dreams.

When asked if he gets mad when players commit errors, “never,” Maddon said, using the question to approach coaching techniques with any other coaches in the audience. Physical errors happen, Maddon said, but mental errors can be stopped by the player thinking in advance of a given situation. Mental errors, he said, deserve a conversation with the player.

Perhaps the biggest local question of the night came from a girl wanting to know which local cold deli pizza he preferred — Senapes or Longos.

“That’s an awesome question,” he said, wiggling with a little nervousness and recalling that at Third Base Luncheonette where his mother waitresses, they sold Senapes.

“I’m a Senapes guy but I do like Longos,” Maddon said, adding, that he didn’t want to upset the Longo family.

Representatives from U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton, and state Sen. John Yudichak, D-14, Plymouth Township, attended as did state Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-116, Butler Township, Hazleton Mayor Jeff Cusat, Council President Jack Mundie and former Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi. They offered Maddon well-wishes and proclamations citing his work at the center, which promotes inclusion across all cultures, his career and major life milestones.

Luzerne County Councilman Robert Schnee said Maddon’s parents taught him the importance of family, treatment of people and a strong work ethic.

He couldn’t imagine that the Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs didn’t notice those qualities when they hired him.

Cusat called him a true role model in a world where more are needed to set a good example for the next generation.

The Hazleton Integration Project is a community-based effort that unites people of different cultures in Hazleton at the Hazleton One Community Center. It hosts educational, athletic and cultural activities while fostering trust and respect among all cultures.

The center also hosts Communities That Care (CTC), which approaches community problems through its youth in an attempt to find solutions to gangs, drug and alcohol abuse.

Frank DeAndrea, HIP board of directors president, asked CTC members in attendance to stand stating, “It will be you who helps change this community” while the crowd erupted in applause.

Thursday Maddon participated in a groundbreaking ceremony at the center for a baseball themed playground. Maddon raised money for the center Friday night with a sold-out dinner party at Valley Country Club which included appearances from actor Bill Murray, boxer “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon, ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, Ken Rosenthal, Ed Randal and Lindsay Berra, a writer for and granddaughter of the legend, Yogi Berra.

Today, Maddon will once again orchestrate the dinner he calls “Thanksmas” for area people in need at the center.