HAZLETON — Manager Joe Maddon and his world champion Chicago Cubs were honored Monday at the White House.
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta will witness the inauguration of President Donald Trump, whom he helped get elected.
Maddon and Barletta, two years apart in age and both Hazleton natives, have come a long way from their 1974 fast-pitch softball team — the Young Men’s Polish Association — that played on Pagnotti Field at Diamond and Cedar streets.
“It sure wasn’t Wrigley Field,” said Barletta, 60. “There was glass and rocks everywhere. If you knelt down to pick up a ball, you might get cut.”
Maddon, 62, and members of his team filed into the White House East Room on Martin Luther King Day on Monday for Obama’s final ceremony for a championship sports team.
Even sweeter for Obama is that the Cubs hail from his hometown.
The president has a home in Chicago and is a White Sox fan. He rooted for the Cubs after the Sox failed to reach the playoffs again. Obama invited the Cubs hours after they won the World Series in November, asking on Twitter if the team wanted to visit before his term ends on Friday.
The Cubs won their first World Series title since 1908 by defeating the Cleveland Indians in November.
Barletta said he texted a copy of the YMPA photo to Maddon on Monday morning. He said Maddon responded, “Hey buddy, I remember that like it was yesterday.”
When asked how an Italian boy from Hazleton got to play for the Young Men’s Polish Association team, Barletta said, “I guess they just wanted to win.”
Barletta was 18 in the photo, and Maddon was 20. Barletta’s brother, Fred “Lefty” Barletta, is behind Barletta in the photo.
Barletta told of one game when he was inserted as a pinch runner. He said he stole second base, but the catcher’s throw struck him in the head.
“I got up and ran to third and then I collapsed,” Barletta said.
His third-base coach, Taylor Matteo, screamed, “Hoofty — he called everybody Hoofty — what happened? You could have scored. I didn’t even know where I was.”
The manager of the team was Jimmy “Scrap Iron” Fallabel.
“Those were tough guys,” Barletta said. “Our bench was a log. The steal sign was our coach waving us over.”
Barletta said the games always drew big crowds and the fans were vocal, demanding the best from their team.
“If you made an error, the crowd would yell, ‘You stink.’ I think if we were to play a game tomorrow and we made an error, they would call us bums,” Barletta said with a laugh.
Maddon played shortstop for the YMPA, and Barletta, when he did get in the game, was an outfielder.
On another occasion, Barletta was in the starting lineup because only nine players showed up. He said in one inning, “Scrap Iron” was waving him in.
“I kept moving in, and he kept waving me in further,” Barletta said. “I was almost behind the second baseman when I realized he wanted me in the dugout because another player showed up. He couldn’t even wait until the inning was over. There were two outs, but he wanted me out of the game.”
Now, 43 years later, the shortstop and the part-time outfielder will be in Washington on opposite ends of the week — Maddon and his Cubs with Obama on Monday, and Barletta at Trump’s inauguration on Friday.
“Everybody who knows Joe is so proud to see him going to the White House,” Barletta said. “Here’s Joe, a Hazleton boy, and look at what he has accomplished, and in a sport we all love.”