Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon honored in his native Hazleton
HAZLETON — After pretty much every political figure connected with Hazleton heaped a truckload of citations and proclamations in Joe Maddon’s lap, the manager of the World Series-winning Chicago Cubs turned to kid who barely reached his waist.
The young boy wanted to know what it felt like to be a champion.
“You already know that,” Maddon responded. “Because you are.”
In one way or another, Maddon seems to make everyone feel like the best in the world.
That’s a big reason why Hazleton honored its most recognizable native son Saturday with Joe Maddon Day, rewarding Major League Baseball’s three-time manager of the year as much for his work off the baseball field as on it. The event, held at the Hazleton One Community Center, celebrated Maddon for helping the Cubs break their 108-year World Series Championship drought and for helping the Hazleton Integration Project break down barriers between different ethnicities in Hazleton.
“We’re so proud your heart is still with us,” Pennsylvania state representative Tara Toolhill, R-Butler Twp., told Maddon, “and all you do for fighting discrimination and combating poverty.”
Maddon, however, said he’s still fighting to fathom what managing the Cubs to a long-sought baseball championship means to him.
“I have not wrapped my mind around it quite yet,” Maddon said, during a question-and-answer session primarily with children in the audience. “To be the manager of the Chicago Cubs, who had not won a World Series in 108 years, that’s pretty significant. It’s pretty special. I thought coming back home would really give me the feeling of what it’s all about.
“Because this is where it all began.”
One by one, they began bestowing gifts upon Maddon.
Representatives from the offices of U.S. representative Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, and Pennsylvania state senator John Yudichak, D-Plymouth, presented Maddon with proclamations — along with Luzerne County councilman Robert Schnee, Hazleton mayor Jeff Cusat and Hazleton council president Jack Mundie.
“We need another wall,” Maddon quipped to his wife Jaye as placards piled up in his arms.
Pennsylvania’s secretary of state Pedro Cortes awarded Maddon with a certificate of recognition and Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce chair Donna Barna presented Maddon with certificate of merit, while Toolhill gifted Maddon with a citation.
“When you say citation, I’m always a little nervous about that,” quipped Maddon, who played baseball and football at Lafayette College in Easton after starring at the old Hazleton High School in the early 1970s. “I’ve been involved with that a couple years ago down in Easton, Pennsylvania. So I’m always afraid when I hear that word citation.”
Ultimately, however, Maddon showed no fear in pouring his heart out to the kids and his star-struck audience.
He revealed he grew up rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals after his father, the late Joe Maddon Sr., took him to a game at Yankee Stadium and bought him a baseball cap the young Joe Jr. picked out because he thought it looked cool.
“I became a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan,” Maddon said. “I really like beating the Cardinals (now) a lot.”
He let out a secret, in that he’ll be part of a Major League Baseball program designed to help teach the sport to kids, starting next month.
“It’s where we’re going to find some fans,” Maddon said.
He was a pitcher at Lafayette College until he volunteered to catch during a spring exhibition game against the Kansas City Royals, leading Maddon to four minor league seasons in the California Angels farm system and ultimately to a career in coaching and managing.
“When I was growing up, I wanted to be a major league baseball player,” Maddon said. “I was signed by the Angels as a catcher. After four years, I was released. The next best thing was to become a coach and a manager.
“I only got to professional baseball because I switched positions.”
And after switching the fortunes of the perennially hard-luck Cubs, he’s looking for similar success next fall.
“Last year, we were picked from day one to win the World Series,” Maddon said. “That’s not easy, with the expectations and the pressure. Hopefully we’ll have that same kind of expectation and pressure attached to us this year. I know we have a very solid chance of repeating what we did last year.”
A difficult task?
Maybe. But Maddon carries with him an inner resolve built during his years in Hazleton.
“There’s a toughness,” Maddon said. “I think this town builds a toughness, an accountability. I knew if I screwed up, I’m getting a licking if I don’t own up to it. Sometimes you want to run the other direction, but you don’t.
“That started here.”
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski