$250K project now part of Hazleton center
HAZLETON — Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon came home again Thursday to dedicate a new $250,000 playground at his Hazleton One Community Center.
Maddon, with wife Jaye on one arm and mother Beanie on the other, talked about his roots and how Hazleton’s playgrounds “back in the day” helped mold him and the city’s children into well-rounded adults.
“Today, kids need to exercise more than their thumbs,” said Maddon. “I’m not bashing technology. I love my cellphone and iPad, but exercising outdoors is what kids need to do more of, and this playground will provide that opportunity.”
Despite the fact a 3-inch-thick rubber-padded surface has yet to be installed at the playground, Maddon said the children served by the Hazleton One center were welcome to try out the new equipment.
As the children rushed into the fenced-in playground, Maddon smiled and watched the kids explore the sliding boards and climbing stations.
“Look, there’s already a line forming up there,” Maddon said. “Watch how they interact and learn how to be patient and resolve any issues that might come up. Kids need that social interaction and experience.”
Maddon said he and most kids were always at Hazleton’s playgrounds. He said he once served as head instructor at the James Street playground.
“Kids today don’t get enough of that experience we had,” Maddon said. “I think now is a good time for the renaissance of the playground. We need to bring back the old instead of trying to invent something new.”
The visit was made possible by a rare break in the grueling 162-game Major League Baseball schedule. The Cubs were in nearby New York on Wednesday, concluding a series against the Mets. They had an off day Thursday.
Maddon said he drove to Hazleton after Wednesday night’s game.
“We got our butts kicked last night in New York,” Maddon said, referring to his Cubs, the defending World Series champions. “On the way here, I was thinking about the playground. The more we get the kids outside, the better off they will be.”
Maddon said his dream is to see more playgrounds pop up all across the country. He said Hazleton’s new playground is “a great first step.”
The Hazleton One Community Center is the home of the Hazleton Integration Project that was organized and founded in 2010 by Maddon and his wife, Jaye, and his cousin, Elaine Maddon Curry, and her husband, Bob. The goal is to create educational, cultural and athletic opportunities for economically disadvantaged children.
Maddon was joined Thursday by businessman William “Billy” Rinaldi, who donated the $250,000 needed to construct the playground adjacent to the center. Rinaldi owns Hazleton Creek Properties LLC.
Former Hazleton Police Chief Frank DeAndrea, president of the Hazleton Integration Project board, said “an old, worn-out parking lot” was transformed into a state-of-the-art playground.
DeAndrea and Maddon thanked Rinaldi for his generosity, noting this was the second time the businessman solved a critical problem at the center. DeAndrea said the computers at the center, used to teach children vital lessons every day, were old and breaking down. He said Rinaldi had 20 new Apple computers delivered.
“First of all, I want to thank Beanie for creating Joe Maddon,” Rinaldi said. “All I want to say to the kids is have fun. That’s what this project is all about.”
Maddon said he has no rules with his Cubs team. He said the players all know right from wrong.
“I hope they all get back to their hometowns and give back — that they do the right thing like we did here by building this playground,” Maddon said.
A few feet away, Maddon’s mother, Beanie, smiled as she listened to her son talk about helping his hometown.
“Of course, I’m proud of him,” she said.
Maddon’s sister, Carmine Parlatore, said her brother’s deepest roots are in Hazleton.
“Joe has lived all over the country,” she said. “But this is his hometown. This is where he grew up.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.