More than 30 years ago, Joe Maddon left small-town Hazleton, Pa., to chase a big-league career. The journey took him far away, but the town and the man hold each other close.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 14, 2006
HAZLETON, Pa. - They stop his mom to ask how he's doing. They hang his picture on the walls, and his name on the high school baseball field. They stay up late to follow his team's games on their televisions, satellite radios and home computers.
They talk - as passionately as anyone around Tampa Bay - about his Devil Rays' chances, discuss the lack of pitching and debate what managerial maneuvers he can make.
Tampa Bay area fans still may be making up their minds about Joe Maddon, but the folks in this hard-edged northeastern Pennsylvania coal-mining town know Maddon as one of their own.
And they love him.
"We're just totally proud of that guy," said Jack Seiwell, one of Maddon's youth football coaches and a longtime family friend. "All you hear around here is Joe Maddon, Joe Maddon, Joe Maddon."
The affection and attention accorded Maddon is not unusual for a small-town, schoolboy sports star, which Maddon was on Hazleton's football fields and baseball diamonds.
But what is remarkable is that although times in this tight-knit community have changed considerably, the feelings for Maddon have not.
It doesn't matter that he moved away more than 30 years ago. Or that he never made it to the major leagues as a player. Or that he spent nearly 20 years working his way through the minors, and the last dozen working on the other side of the country as a big-league coach with the Angels.
"I think Joe represents what's good about Hazleton," said Willie Forte, a close friend since childhood. "It's the spirit of Hazleton. It's a very caring town. Hazleton has always loved Joe because he's always been the competitor. He always came through. Or he went down trying as hard as he could. I think that's why people always follow him. He was like a hometown hero."
So when Maddon was hired in Tampa Bay, Hazleton Little League officials put up a big sign thanking the Rays and saying how proud they were. When Maddon made his managerial debut in Baltimore last month, it wasn't just headline news, but a front-page story in the local paper and a big deal on TV.
When the Rays play in nearby Philadelphia next month, busloads of fans from Hazleton will be there, and Maddon probably will try to greet every one of them.
"He never forgets Hazleton," said Don Carlyon, a youth league teammate. "And Hazleton will never forget him for that reason."Beanie's baby
Joseph John James Maddon got his patience, his positive outlook and his good nature from his father. Joseph Anthony Maddon was a gentle, quiet, hard-working plumber who died in 2002 at age 82, six months before his son would fulfill their common dream by winning a World Series, as an Angels coach.
"He was so laid-back and relaxed," said Ron Maddon, a cousin. "A ton of bricks could fall on his head and he'd say, "Okay, what do we do?' He never had a bad word to say about anybody. He was a very special man.
"That's where Joe gets it from."
But Maddon got his more, um, colorful side from his mother, Beanie, a 73-year-old dynamo who still works four days a week, still drives around town, still brags about her son and still leaves people quaking in her wake.
"I was the witch," Beanie said, and proudly.
Most of the stories about Joe's childhood are good ones; about him playing nice with younger sister Carmine (pronounced CAR-mean) Parlatore and brother Mark, about hosting friends at what was essentially a seven-days-a-week open house.
But when there wasn't a happy ending, such as when Joe "borrowed" a few dollars a neighbor left out for a deliveryman, or when he dropped the carton of milk he cavalierly tossed around the green-carpeted living room, it usually ended with Beanie having the final say.
"Her words were threat enough," Carmine said.
If for some reason they weren't, Beanie - born Albina Klocek, one of 13 children, on Jan. 1, 1933 - wasn't shy about using a wooden spoon or a paddle for punctuation.
"Beanie was the tough one," Ron Maddon said.
During a Rays game last month, Maddon showed his displeasure with a call, and the TV cameras made it clear he no longer was speaking politely or patiently.
"He has a little bit of his mom in him," Ron Maddon said. "You saw that on TV last night when you read his lips."
Beanie, who lives in the same apartment where she raised the three kids, tries to watch the Rays most nights with the DirecTV package Joe bought her. She'll yell and scream at the TV, and when things get too tense, she'll flip the channel or leave the room - though she usually ends up peeking in from around the corner.
Her pride in Joe's achievements is obvious, from the memorabilia around her apartment to the conversation as she whirls around town, where few people don't know who she, or her son, is.
If the Rays give him the chance, Beanie said she is sure Joe will have success.
"It'll come," she said. "He knows what he is striving for. He will succeed. Or I'll choke him."Third Base, close to home
The Maddon family compound - the four-family apartment building above the old C. Maddon & Sons plumbing shop - is a nondescript building on E 11th Street.
And a short way from home, of course, is Third Base.
The classic luncheonette, open since 1949 and barely changed, is the social center of Maddon's Hazleton.
It's the place where Beanie works 7:30-2 Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, doing a little bit of everything, as she has for the past 561/2 years.
"It keeps her going; it keeps her young," said owner Dave Mishinski, who took over the Base from his father and mother, who was Beanie's sister. "She knows more about the business than I do. If she wasn't here I don't know what we'd do."
It's the place where the Mishinski family makes the increasingly famous sandwich that is Maddon's ultimate comfort food, the $3.25 Cold-Cut Hoagie (with extra hot pepper spread), and sells more than 50 dozen on a good day.
It's the place where there is character, and there are characters.
"It's like a Cheers, something like that," Mishinski said. "Everybody knows everybody. And if you didn't know any better you'd think they were going to kill each other."
Any time - weekday lunch, Saturday breakfast, Saturday afternoon (when the area funeral directors drive over after work in the hearses and limos) - there is a good chance the conversation at the 20-stool counter involves the Devil Rays and their manager.
Order off the menu on the wall, take a Farmers' iced tea carton out of the cooler, grab some penny candy from the case below the shelf with the small Maddon shrine, and sit.
But you better know your stuff. This may be Phillies and Yankees country, but the topics aren't much different than they would be at Ferg's or Skyway Jack's or El Cap or any place around Tampa Bay.
What are they going to do about their pitching? Are they going to spend any money? Will Joey have a real chance?"We went from being Angels to being Devils," Ron Maddon said. "Now everyone around here's a Devil Rays fan." Saint Joe
Growing up in Hazleton in the 1950s, '60s and '70s was different. With the Maddons' extended Polish-Italian family and an ever-widening circle of friends, their doors, hearts and lives were always open.
The Maddon children didn't have much, but they didn't know any different and didn't want for anything. Life was what it was, and you made the best of it.
It's a foundation Maddon still draws on, especially with the Rays besieged early by injuries and misfortune. "I'm from Hazleton, P-A," he said after one particularly tough night in Boston. "You learn to expect the worst."
"It's true," Carmine said. "It's instilled in you. You think the worst first and then everything's okay."
But that didn't stop Maddon and his buddies from having a good time, whether it was playing a game, chowing down on hot peppers or cruising for girls in their beat-up cars.
"You name it, we competed at it," said Jeff Jones, one of his closest pals.
A recent dinner gathering of Maddon's old friends, coaches and relatives turns into an hourslong storyfest, with repeated tales of how much trouble they tried to get into - and how Maddon would keep them from it.
"There's not too much to write on Joe being bad," said longtime friend Dave Cassarella, who owns Casamato's Famiglia Ristorante, another place where Maddon's picture and autograph are on display. "Joe was a good boy. You know - All-American, apple pie, baseball, that whole bit? That's Joe."
Many of the kids Maddon grew up with had nicknames. Carlyon was Chubby, cousin Frank Maddon was Bumba, Mike Macejko was Magic.
But Joe Maddon? He was a good enough quarterback to occasionally be called Broad Street Joe in reference to Broadway Joe Namath, but to most people he was the Monsignor ("Because he wouldn't say a curse word," Ron Maddon said) or Saint Joe.
"One reason I didn't go bad was because he was my friend," said Forte, his childhood buddy. "I had a tendency to be a little bit on the edge, but Joe was the straight-laced one and he kept me on the right side.
"There isn't a bad bone in him. He was really a perfect kid. I know that sounds kind of strange, but he was. If you have a son, you want him to be just like Joe."
Joe's strong personality surfaced early, when he was a 10-year-old quarterback on the State Trooper Eagles midget football team, and grew from there. "He was special then, and he was a winner," said Seiwell, who coached the team with Richie Rabbitz and stays in contact with Maddon. "You could see the leadership in that kid."
He also had the ability to recognize talent.
Before heading out one 1973 night Maddon insisted Forte, who split his time between playing sports and playing in rock bands, listen to a new album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle.
"He told me, "You have to hear this guy,' " Forte recalled. "He's telling me: "This guy is going to be the best. His name is Bruce Springsteen. He's from Jersey. He's going to be on top of the charts. You're going to end up doing some of his music one day.' "
Maddon was right on both counts. Springsteen seems to have done okay. And Forte is in his 26th year singing and playing keyboards as a founding member of the B-Street Band, which is the world's longest running Springsteen tribute band.
"So now I've got this hanging over my head, that Joe introduced me to Springsteen," Forte said. "It's a terrible thing to live with. And, trust me, he has plenty of good ways to remind me."No place like home
As much as friends and relatives are living vicariously through Maddon, he tries to stay a part of their lives back in Hazleton, too.
He calls home once a week. He makes annual visits and, in 2003, bought a huge Victorian house that his sister and brother-in-law live in. He makes time for hometown friends when they visit him on the road. He practically seeks out Hazletonians in the stands before games.
And he talks frequently about his roots, introducing the Tampa Bay area to his favorite people, favorite places such as Casamato's and Bellhop's, and favorite delicacies such as Third Base hoagies and Senape's pitza.
When Francis Libonati, one of his high school teachers, was hired as a principal after 35 years in the classroom, Maddon was among the first to congratulate him. When Maddon got the chance to be the Angels' interim manager, he called his high school baseball coach, Ed Morgan, from the dugout.
When the Angels won the World Series, Maddon came back for a reception, which drew more than 400 people and raised about $8,000 for a scholarship in his late father's name, driving cross-country to personally deliver a new car he bought for his mother.
As much as Maddon's friends and relatives work to keep up with him, he feels it is important to do the same.
"We've all always been close. There's a tightness there. It's all about how we grew up and how we were raised," Maddon said. "Honestly, I can't imagine a better place to grow up. With the attention paid to you, you always felt like someone cared about you."
Maddon, 52, is occasionally overwhelmed and often humbled by the level of admiration. He was taken aback when they named the new Hazleton Area High baseball field for him in 2003, requesting that there not be a dedication ceremony. He reacted the same way at the suggestion of a nomination to the Northeastern Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
"He didn't feel like he deserved it," Carmine said. "He said he didn't accomplish enough in his career. That's the type of guy he is."
And that may be part of the appeal, too.
When Maddon returned for a few weeks at Christmas, with girlfriend Jaye Sousoures in tow and a new job in Tampa Bay ahead, he was both a popular attraction - an "informal" gathering at Casamato's drew more than 100 people - and target, and he took it all.
He gets teased about his spiked gray hair, the funky retro glasses and the California-cation of his lifestyle - sipping wine, watching his diet and sporting what teenage cousin Autumn Mishinski called the "Armani skier" look.
"He comes in California, but he leaves Hazleton," Carmine said. "It takes a couple days for him to get back to Joey. He comes in Joseph, he leaves Joey."
And as any good baseball man would, he knows where home is.
"People ask me where I'm from, and it's always Hazleton," Maddon said. "Hazleton. That's where I'm from. That's me."