He's serious: Rays to shine by '09

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 24, 2007

The Devil Rays this week wrap up their 10th consecutive losing season, and have the worst record in the major leagues. But manager Joe Maddon, 53, whose contract recently was extended through 2009, insists better days are ahead. And not as far away as you might think.


How close are the Rays to finally winning?

Drawing on my experience of going through the building process with a previous group (the Angels), I think next year we can be very competitive. And I'm saying 2009, we should really be able to see how good we are, and where we can place among this division. Next year is kind of an over-the-hump situation. You look at this year retrospectively, record-wise (64-92) is still not good but, God bless, it's so much closer than last year at the same time.


What do you see for this franchise a decade from now?

Ten years from now this franchise will truly run itself in a sense. There's going to be a method of operation in place that perpetuates itself on an annual basis. It's going to be a system that people will be plugged into. When you walk in this door as a new member from another organization, you're going to immediately know how this group acts, how it interacts and what you have to do to be part of this group. ... When you walk into this room, you're going to feel unity, a group that knows where they want to go and how to get there, and something to feel proud about. And there will be some championship banners on the wall. There shall be. Absolutely. That's a no-brainer for me. And this may seem ridiculous, but we're not that far away from that moment right now.


How much of your job is managing and how much is teaching?

This group is a unique setting in our game. Quite frankly, I'd say 40 percent managing and maybe 60 percent teaching. I've been with two kinds of teams, one that's more veteran and a team now that's not as veteran. When I'd go into the other locker room, it was primarily just game prep. ... This is different. This is obviously that, but also making sure we address all the physical mistakes we've made, all the mental mistakes we've made, it's about interaction and conversations, trying to move our guys along in regard to becoming professional major-league baseball players.

Are you frustrated by the amount of criticism and abuse you've taken from the fans?

It doesn't bother me, it doesn't concern me and I don't pay any attention to it. Quite frankly, the moment I start making my decisions based on that, I don't belong in this chair at all. If you're looking for somebody that's going to bend to popular public opinion consistently, then basically your group isn't going anywhere. I feel really confident in what I do and how I do it. I've gone to school for many years to be qualified to sit in this chair. So all that stuff, I find it humorous more than anything. It's necessary, it's part of our culture today and if I can be the butt of somebody's joke, I'm okay with that.


What are your primary interests and passions outside of baseball?

I really enjoy biking and working on my general fitness. This job is very demanding and to not attempt to take care of yourself physically it will beat you up. In order to do this job the way I want to do it, I need to stay fit. I love to read. I really enjoy a good novel - fiction, courtroom stuff, international terrorism. A lot of today's fiction writers are basing it on fact, so anybody that can really teach me through fiction, I kind of enjoy that. I love to cook in the offseason. I like to travel, especially to Europe. Of course, I like a good glass of red wine.


You've spoken fondly of the Tampa Bay area; what's your perfect day like?

I get up around 9 or 10 and start doing some computer work on that night's game. I'll go over to Starbucks - I'm on a green tea jag - then head over to Bayshore (Boulevard) and ride my bike up and down and do my workout. I like to get breakfast or lunch at some of the little places over there in South Tampa. Then I come to the ballpark around 2:30 and start doing more computer research and thinking about the other team. It's a real mental day. Of course, a win makes it a perfect day. And then I like to go home and watch at least one episode of the Office, which I always DVR.


Since the Rays won't be in it this year, who do you think is going to win the World Series?

I'd have to say it's going to be an American League team. The surprise team in this whole thing is Cleveland. But if I had to pick a team based on what I've seen recently, I'd say the Angels should win this year. They are the most completely prepared for this offensively, defensively, pitching and bullpen. And the method in which they play is going to bother other teams.