I had the opportunity to speak with Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon earlier this week to get his take on the state of the team approaching the 50 game mark of the 2014 MLB regular season. We also discussed life off the field and reflecting back on the skipper’s career with the Rays. The following interview took place Thursday, May 22nd at Tropicana Field before the Rays-Athletics game.
Q: I’ve got to ask how your restaurant Ava is coming along? Are you set on an opening date yet?
A: Good, real good. September 18th, as of right now that is the official kickoff cause we have a day off and at home. So Mike (Stewart, part owner) wanted to set it at September 18th.
Q: You have a new English bulldog: Clementine Churchill Maddon. How is she doing with the family and the other dogs?
A: Clemmy’s doing really good. She’s got a little bit of a cherry eye right now; which is a bit of a membrane problem in one eye. From what I understand it afflicts one percent. But she’s really cute, great personality and her and Winston get along extremely well. So far it’s turned out really good.
Q: This is your 9th season managing the Rays. What has been the most rewarding experience or your proudest moment with Tampa Bay?
A: When I think about it, I always want to go with the first thing that hits. The ground to Aki, step on the bag (winning the ALCS in 2008). There are so many other little subplots involved there are so many things that had to turn around in order to get to that point. I remember well those spring trainings at Al Lang Stadium in the beginning, when you’re trying to figure it all out and trying to piece it together. If you had documented it, it would have been an interesting exercise. But the one particular item that stands out is the ground ball to Aki, he steps on the bag, you go to the World Series. For all the wonderful things that we’ve done over the last several years, you look up at the 2008 AL East Champs (banner), that probably stands out the most.
Q: Where does your loose, relaxed, fun managerial style come from, letting the personalities of the players shine through?
A: A lot of it has to do with not wanting to be like the guys you didn’t like to play for. I’ve really felt the best coaches I’ve had whether it was in baseball or football, were the ones that communicated with me. I always think respect is gained through communication. I wanted to be like my better coaches and communicate with my guys. I never really react to guys when they’re yelling at me or getting angry; I never quite understood that. I can understand it when it’s perceived that a player didn’t work hard enough, or if there was a moment in the game when you didn’t put out your fullest effort; that might require loud language. Otherwise, when young players are working hard and things aren’t working out for them, to me that requires even more redundancy in an attempt to get your point across. So primarily the style is rooted in a perverse way the coaches I did not like to play for.
Q: The team is currently under .500, but just six games back in the AL East. You’ve said to “trust the process” in struggling times. What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned to establish that faith and trust?
A: We have such really great self-starters here, guys that work really hard. When you have professionals, for me you give them a lot of freedom to be themselves and I think you’re going to get greater respect and discipline in return, and with that there’s a lot of trust involved. So the players got to know that I trust them, and I got to know that they trust me. Everybody’s got to do their job, so for me it’s about creating the kind of work environment that anybody would want to work within, through good and bad. It’s really easy to look good when things are going good. It’s a little bit more difficult to look good when things are going poorly or bad. And I love the player that looks good when things aren’t going well, that guy to me is a true professional.
Q: What do you think would be the biggest lift off the team’s shoulders to get back on track?
A: A couple late inning wins would really help a lot, more than a late inning loss we’ve had several of those. We haven’t had our share of the late inning wins. I think as we are able to keep things close or tidy, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to do that and we’ve fallen short. If we can just get over that late inning hump where you know if you keep it close you can win the game late, I think that’s when we’re playing our best ball.
Q: Tell me about the numerous colorful wristbands you wear.
A: I’ve just got the latest one from Quinn, a young girl over here that’s got something called “PCH Awareness”; I just met her she’s one-year-old she’s beautiful. Other than that, my Johnny Challis stuff from 2008, I got the newer version of that, before this one falls off: “Courage + Believe = Life”; I always look at that. My “Hazelton Integration Project” is what we have going on in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, trying to bring the cultures together. One is “Prostate Cancer Awareness” and that’s for Ed Randle up in New York City, and obviously that’s a wonderful cause. And the other one is “Hope,” I think that comes from Joaquin Benoit’s group. It’s getting kind of heavy right now. It’s hard for me to say no, especially when it comes to good stuff. But Johnny Challis was the one that got me started on this, died from pancreatic cancer when he was 18, a young Pennsylvania kid so that one really stuck with me and that’s what got me involved with a lot of this stuff.
Q: Do you find any sort of inspiration, as much as you can, that comes to you, especially if you’re ever feeling down or reflecting at all?
A: Oh yeah absolutely. Feeling down…. for us to feel down is kind of ridiculous. I don’t want to say we live the charmed life. We live a very good life. When I am reticent, there is to say the fact that I think I’ve earned this right to be here. So we’ve earned the right to be here and it’s a pretty cool existence. It’s not as glamorous as some people may think it is. There’s a lot of other work going on behind the scenes, lot of travel, you got to do it when you’re tired a lot.
Having said all that, for me to be down at all because we’ve lost a couple baseball games, I have a hard time with that thought. I know a lot of people expect you to be upset or down or angry. But for me that is the most counter-productive thing you could possibly do when things aren’t going well. And then furthermore, there are a lot of people out there that have legitimately some bad things occurring in their life. Whether it’s illnesses, bad health, unfortunate circumstances, there are some actual victims out there. To consider us a victim we’ve lost some tough games because some line drives are caught or hit into a few double plays I can’t go there. From a baseball perspective it’s difficult, and you have to fight through those moments those negative urges. But in the grand scheme of things, we’re pretty darn lucky. So for me to be complaining about anything would be absolutely wrong.