Joe Maddon praises Bill Rinaldifor playground, computer funds
HAZLETON — You could tell by his demeanor and his words — Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon was safe at home Thursday.
Hazleton’s native son, Maddon returned to his hometown to lead a groundbreaking ceremony for a new baseball-themed playground at the Hazleton One Community Center.
The trip home came a little over a month after he led the Cubs to their first World Series title in more than 100 years.
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, to create educational, cultural and athletic opportunities for economically disadvantaged children.
Maddon was joined by businessman William “Billy” Rinaldi, who donated the $250,000 needed to construct the playground adjacent to the center.
“This whole thing started as a thought,” Maddon said at a post-shoveling news conference.
Maddon explained that after a visit to Hazleton in 2010, he and his wife were on a plane back to California when “the thought” came to him. He said anybody can have a thought, but it’s what you do with that thought that matters.
“You must be fearless and courageous to get things like this done,” Maddon said. “You have to understand the concept.”
Maddon likened today’s Hazleton to the time decades ago when his ancestors and those of most Americans came to a new country looking for a better life. He said the growing Hispanic population in Hazleton reminded him of those ancestors, and he said somebody had to step to the plate to help them find their way to that better life.
It takes a village
Bob Curry, founding president of the project, used an old adage about how it takes a village to raise a child. He said the mission of the Hazleton One Community Center is just that.
Curry said the goal of the center is to ensure that everyone who crosses through its doorway learns to foster respect and appreciation of all of the area’s various cultures. He said the organization serves between 1,200 and 2,000 “unique visitors” per week.
And as former Hazleton Police Chief Frank DeAndrea, president of the Hazleton Integration Project board of directors, said, “And now we will have a playground. Today is huge for us.”
Maddon talked about the excessive amount of “hyper-criticism” that surfaced when the concept of creating the Hazleton One Community Center was first discussed six years ago.
“I kind of dig it,” Maddon said. “When people criticize me or disagree with me, it tells me I’m on the right track. And we were always on the right track with this project.”
Maddon again mentioned how the project began as a thought in 2010.
“Then in 2016, hell froze over and the Cubs won the World Series,” he said. “And this center continues to grow and thanks to Billy Rinaldi, the kids here will have a playground.”
Rinaldi to the rescue
Maddon also thanked Rinaldi for solving another critical problem at the center. Curry said the computers at the center, used to teach the children vital lessons every day, were old and breaking down. He recalled a conversation with Rinaldi about the problem.
“The next thing I know, Billy Rinaldi had 20 brand new Apple computers delivered to the center,” Curry said. “He also had the room painted and carpeted.”
Rinaldi downplayed his role, saying in the overall scheme of things he is a minor player.
“Compared to all of the volunteers here, my role is small,” he said. “This building provides a safe, secure atmosphere for children to learn. And that is important because I have always believed that our children are our future.”
Maddon said he and all those involved, despite some criticism, know that what is being done at the center is the right thing and it has shown great results.
‘Bring it on’
Maddon said he didn’t feel comfortable when he went to Chicago to manage the Cubs, leaving his old job with Tampa Bay.
“But that’s the worst reason to stay anywhere,” he said. “You have to always challenge yourself. And that’s what we did here. If people want to be critical, then I say bring it on. I’m a product of the old school — of loyalty, trust and to always be there when you’re needed.”
Maddon said he knew back in 2010 that the people of Hazleton needed help.
“And they need it every day, not just at the holidays,” he said. “To the critics, I say come to the center and see what’s going on and meet the kids in this building. Those with dissenting voices, well, they just don’t get it.”
Curry said the work that goes on every day at the center “is magic.” He said the volunteers show the kids that “we care about them,” giving them hope for the future.
“And let me just say that we would not be here if not for Joe and Jaye Maddon,” Curry said. “And with this center, Hazleton’s best days are ahead of us.”
Weekend of events
The groundbreaking kicked off a long weekend of events featuring Maddon, manager of the World Series champion Chicago Cubs.
On Friday, Maddon will host “Around the Horn with Joe Maddon & Friends” — a night of casino “gambling” and fun with celebrity stars at Valley Country Club to benefit the Hazleton Integration Project.
Saturday will be “Joe Maddon Day” in Hazleton. The Cubs’ skipper will be honored by officials representing state, county and city governments. Doors open to the public at 6 p.m. at the Hazleton One Community Center.
Beginning at noon Sunday, Maddon and volunteers at the center will serve the traditional “Thanksmas” meal for economically disadvantaged families.
U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, is a lifelong friend of Maddon. Both attended Hazleton High School — Maddon graduated in 1972 and Barletta in 1973.
“We are all very proud of him,” Barletta said of Maddon. “He’s the same Joey Maddon from Hazleton, and he has never forgotten where he came from. The kids are learning every day at the center, and it has really played a significant role in bringing the community together.”
Maddon said he loves returning to his hometown to “walk on the same dirt” he played on when he was a kid.
“This is where I grew up and, in 2010, it appeared that Hazleton was going in the wrong direction,” he said. “Finally, in 2010, my wife and I decided we had enough and we decided to so something. Nothing is ever accomplished by talking about it — you have to be willing to do something.”
Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon is videotaped as he talks to the media after a groundbreaking for a new playground at the Hazleton One Community Center on Thursday.
Rossanna Gabriel, Frank DeAndrea, William Rinaldi, Joe Maddon and Elaine Curry toss dirt up in the air during the groundbreaking ceremony.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.