“Respect 90 represents the 90 feet from home plate to first base. I want my players to run hard all the time to first place,” he said, speaking May 17 over a Skype connection to a class at Ridgewood High School in Norridge.
Respect 90, in its essence, “is kind of a play on words,” he told the students. “If you think about, it that is where respect begins, at home. That’s where home plate is.”
Carol Valentino-Barry, the high school’s community relations director, helped arrange Maddon’s appearance, after meeting Rick Vaughn, Respect 90 Foundation’s executive director, through The Salvation Army, which recently honored Valentino Barry for her volunteer work.
“He said, you know Joe wants to have the players be interviewed by newspapers in the high schools,” Valentino-Barry said. “Like the players have time before a game, they’re sitting in a hotel room for a couple of hours — why not use that time to interact with students at the high school?”
Valentino-Barry went to work, lining up Maddon for a class that looks at business case studies. Maddon was true to form in the session with students, thoughtfully considering questions, and often giving multi-layered answers back. He also probed students about their interests.
He spoke about his motivation to reach the younger audience on some of the aims of Respect 90, drawing on his own experience, growing up in Hazleton, a coal mining town in central Pennsylvania.
The Hazleton Integration Project is one of three areas of focus in the Respect 90 project, he said. (More can be found on his website, respect90.org). Maddon and his wife Jaye started the Hazleton project, looking to unify the varied cultures of that town.
He told the students, speaking over the Skype hookup, that when he was growing up, “there were absolutely zero minorities. A minority was an Italian living in the Polish part of town. There was one black kid in the whole city. Now, it’s over 50 percent Hispanic, and there was a lot of pushback, a lot of unrest.”
That ‘’was really wrong because that’s exactly how Hazleton had been settled. It was European settled,” Maddon, of Polish-Italian extraction, told the students. “My grandparents could barely speak English. They had to learn English, and even my grandmother on my Italian side hardly knew any English at the time she passed away.”
Cellphone use also falls into the Respect 90 model, he indicated. He said, “I made a concerted effort this past spring training to start calling people more, and that’s what I encourage you guys to do,” he said. “Believe me, I don’t want to sit here like an old dude or anything … but look forward to the moment when we start talking to one another a little more consistently and put the thumbs down.”
He lightly sprinkled in career or life guidance.
“I’m always into listening and taking advice, but at the end of the day you’ve got to stay true to what you believe internally — what you want to do and how you want to do it,” he told the students. “Too many times, we get caught up trying to appease and ameliorate other people’s thoughts on how you should be and then you start taking those things on and stop being who you want to be.”
Caroline Lipski, a senior, and a self-described “lifelong Cubs fan,” asked him about his propensity to sometimes play players outside their nomal position.
“When I came up as a baseball coach, it was actually frowned upon,” Maddon said. “A lot of the old dudes thought when you did that, you would thwart development. And I thought exactly the opposite. I thought by having that kind of versitality, it kept a fresh mind and plus it permitted you to utilize different guys, especially when the game was in progress.”
Another questioner asked, “books or movies?” — gathering material for the student newspaper.
“Oh, man — both. There is no movie that is as good as the book,” said Maddon. “I read and read and read, and we’re going to have a program soon, hopefully through the Chicago Tribune, called Read 15. I want to encourage kids to read 15 minutes.”
Dimitris Anastopoulos, a senior, acknowledged he was a Cardinals fan, “so I’ll try to keep this unbiased here,” he told an amused Maddon.
He received a long response from Maddon to a question about how the club went about addressing pitcher Jon Lester’s pickoff issues. “Are you going to tell the Cardinals I said that,” he said after winding up.
“They’re in third place; you’re in fourth,” said Dimitris, briefly breaking the respect model.
“I love Dimitri, he’s so mean,” Maddon said, to the enjoyment of the other students.
Students appeared energized by the session.
“I always knew he was an approachable guy,” said Shane Plesha, a senior and baseball fan. “He’s not pretentious. You can just hear it from what he says. He’s always approachable with everything he does. He does everything he can for the community. Even in Tampa Bay, he did that all the time.
Also, “he seems like he knows how to talk to the youth. He seems like he was able … to talk with us not in a way that seemed overly formal but at the same time be able to talk to us in a way we could understand and communicate and have a good time.”
A class of Ridgewood High School students, preparing business case studies, had plenty of questions for Cubs manager Joe Maddon on May 17. (Pioneer Press)
Image at Top: Ridgewood High School students turn to the camera so Cubs manager Joe Maddon has a better view of his audience, speaking over Skype. (Pioneer Press)