tampabay.com

Manager eats up hometown attention

The Hazelton, Pa., native keeps small-town roots in focus and familiar hoagie in his hand.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published April 4, 2006


BALTIMORE - Joe Maddon had his hoagies, and at that moment nothing was more important.

It was two hours before Maddon would manage his first major-league game for the Devil Rays. There was excitement. There were nerves.

But when his mother, Beanie, leaned over the front-row railing at Camden Yards and handed him three Italian sandwiches (with everything) from the Third Base Luncheonette in their hometown of Hazelton, Pa., there was a sense of normalcy.

"I'm sure Beanie laced them with something to calm me down a little bit," Maddon said.

An exaggeration, it turned out.

Maddon said his first game wasn't much different from those he worked as Angels bench coach.

"The main difference," he said after Monday's 9-6 loss to the Orioles, "is you get to go to the mound."

No exaggeration was the day's hometown flavor. Maddon said it began with Beanie's 7:30 a.m. good-morning phone call. When Maddon saw her at the stadium, he gave her a kiss and a hug.

"He's so happy," said Beanie, who, as a waitress at Third Base Luncheonette, probably got a deal on the hoagies. "He strives for something, he works at it and he gets there. It took him a while but he got here."

Maddon's sister, Carmine, said the buzz in Hazelton is such the family had to hunt for Sports Illustrated ' s preview issue to see Maddon's picture.

"Everybody in town is so happy for him, no matter who you bump into," Carmine said.

Maddon spoke somberly about his cousin, Frank Maddon, two years his senior, who recently died after an illness. But the emotions quickly turned when Maddon recalled with a smile how Frank hit a home run off him in Little League.

Maddon said Frank's nickname was Bumba. Maddon said everyone in Hazelton has a nickname, except himself; Maddon said he simply was called Joey.

Maddon said he understands Hazelton is pumped that after 31 years in professional baseball he is getting a chance to manage.

"But I don't dwell on it," he said. "When I go home it really stands out, but it will get back to normal soon. They'll treat me like they always have and that's a good thing. I like to go home and be handled in a normal way."

That means enjoying Hazelton's cuisine. That means demanding those who travel to see the Rays bring hoagies from the Third Base Luncheonette or Bellhop's (former home, Maddon said, of a 100-year-old bartender), or a cold cut pizza from Senape's.

"If I leave you a ticket, you have to bring something," Maddon said.

He knows what's important.