Editor’s note: The Rays next week in Chicago will meet up for the first time with former manager Joe Maddon, who is in his third year leading the Cubs after nine with the Rays. In advance of the Tuesday-Wednesday series, we asked Maddon to share his thoughts in a column on what his time in Tampa Bay meant to him.
It still means something. I prefer to look at it as a present-tense situation. We have our home there, Jaye has businesses and we have a restaurant. Whenever I hear the Tampa Bay phrase, I do think of home.
Everything changed in 2006 when we got that opportunity. Our lives changed. We got married in 2008 and I never thought this girl would leave Southern California, but now she really loves the area. Beyond the baseball field, everything changed. I thought we assimilated well. We became part of the community. We still are a part of the community. I always look forward to returning after the season. We love everything about our life there including so many friends, lifelong friends.
On the field, obviously meeting Andrew (Friedman) and Matt (Silverman) in Houston in 2005 (for his job interview) pretty much changed my life. It gave me the opportunity to be a major league manager. They were the first guys to take a flyer on me. Those two and an ownership group led by Stuart Sternberg all took a chance by giving a neophyte an opportunity.
It all means so much. It means a new beginning at 51. A new beginning of your life in your fifties, and it was invigorating. It means my first press conference as a manager poking fun at (Rays farm director) Mitch Lukevics as he walks by in the background because it reminded me of the time at Penn State vs. Lafayette when I hit a bases-loaded double against him off the centerfield wall.
It means going to spring training at the Raymond Naimoli Complex and meeting everybody for the first time and how daunting that actually is. It means trying to bring your thoughts and system into an organization based on your beliefs and trying to get it to work. And it did.
It means the first salvo into the postseason and getting all the way to the World Series with a team that had never won more than 70 games in their previous years of existence. That’s pretty formidable to be a part of that group.
Going to the All-Star Game for the first time as a manager. All of these things happened because of that meeting in Houston. It brought other opportunity. If I had not been able to have this one in Tampa Bay and done well with a really inspirational group, I would never have had that opportunity to do what I am doing now in a larger market in Chicago.
It’s a part of the baseball cycle of life. You start out as an A-ball player. Never get out of that level and eventually become a minor league instructor and scout. I get to the big leagues as a coach and serve as interim manager several times (with the Angels). Finally, somebody takes a shot with you and turns your whole life around.
And that leads eventually to getting to Chicago and being a part of the first World Series victory in 108 years. It’s all actually tied to that day in Houston because without them — Andrew and Matthew — taking a chance on me, that probably would never have happened.
The other part of becoming a major league manager was getting the chance to have a larger soap box to stand on to actually implement thoughts regarding off the field charitable activities. That’s how Thanksmas was born and it happened right there in St. Pete at St. Vincent de Paul where we cooked the first luncheon and I burned my feet really badly when I poured too much hot water into one of their kitchen sinks. I think it might have been the first time I met our trainer, Ronnie Porterfield. What a first impression!
That was how Thanksmas started and eventually it has led to the Respect 90 Foundation where we are now able to help and benefit other groups beyond homelessness — families, pediatric cancer and HIP (Hazleton Integration Project). All these different things have spun out of that first lunch that we cooked and served at St. Vincent de Paul in 2006. We have been able to impact a lot of folks since that first lunch.
In essence, this was my proving ground.
It was my opportunity to take everything I had learned and believed as a minor league manager and major league coach and as a scout and put it into play. Even in the 100-loss season and the almost 100-loss season our second year, I really believed that it was going to work and I saw it beginning to work in 2007.
I always point out the Dan Wheeler trade was the linchpin. He was the guy that gave it form. He was the guy that gave our bullpen substance for the first time. And then that 2007 offseason into 2008, the acquisitions of Cliff Floyd, Percy (Troy Percival) and Eric Hinske, who is now one of my coaches, really made an incredible difference within that room. These were the real reasons, the tipping point when it started rolling in the right direction. Then we found our method on the field and it just worked.
I will repeat what I have said before: For me, it was kind of like participating in baseball Camelot over those nine years. What we did, how we did it, the circumstances we did it under.
I’m so grateful to everybody there.
Joe Maddon greets Willy Aybar in the dugout after he scored on a Eric Hinske home run during a game against the Angels in 2008. (James Borchuck | Times)
Joe Maddon waits to greet B.J. Upton after Upton’s home run in Game 2 of the ALCS in 2008 at Tropicana Field. (Times files | 2008)
Joe Maddon stands with Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, president Matt Silverman and executive vice president Andrew Friedman after the Rays defeated the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS in 2008. (Times files | 2008)
Joe Maddon adds garlic to olive oil at the Tropicana Field kitchen as he and a staff of about 15 volunteers from the organization make spaghetti sauce for the 2012 Thanksmas celebration. (James Borchuck | Times)
Joe Maddon salutes the crowd after a Rays win over the Yankees in 2011 clinched a playoff spot. (Getty Images)
Joe Maddon defends himself with champagne against Rafael Soriano in the clubhouse as the Rays celebrate a playoff spot in 2010. (James Borchuck | Times)
Joe Maddon managed the Rays from 2006-14, taking them to the playoffs four times. He has been manager of the Cubs since 2015, winning the World Series last year. For information on his Tampa-based Respect 90 Foundation, see respect90.org.