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For Joe Maddon, it all started at home

HAZLETON, Pa. — Nothing has changed inside the Third Base Luncheonette since it opened in 1949, said Dave Mishinski, whose dad started the business. Not the pink wall at the back of the place, not the formica countertop that snakes for 20 stools through the small diner, not the red Sealtest signs that provide a daily reminder of the old Philadelphia ice-cream company that provided the design for the interior and tubs of ice cream for years.

Perhaps the most enduring — and endearing — part of “The Base” that’s still the same is the presence of Albina “Beanie” Maddon, who, three weeks shy of her 82nd birthday, still works four days a week in the family business.

“What am I going to do at home?” said the mother of Cubs manager Joe Maddon and Mishinski’s aunt. “As long as I can push, I’ll go. It keeps your mind more open and more alert. And then you see people. You sit at home, what do you see?”

Actually, she can see the diner. Maddon’s mom still lives in the apartment where Joe and his brother and sister grew up, just down the hall from the apartments where seven cousins grew up — not two blocks from The Base.

Across the street is “The Castle,” Maddon’s old Hazleton High School, which now is an elementary and middle school.

When Maddon goes back to Hazleton each year, he always stops by The Base.
“He just sits like a normal customer, and people say, ‘Oh, that’s Joe,’ ” Mishinski said.

That’s something else that hasn’t changed here: Hazleton’s Joey Maddon, a 60-year-old kid from what he calls “the greatest place in the world to grow up.”

Who always returns to the diner where he spent time working as a kid, where he always knows he’s almost home.

A look inside the "3rd Base" cafe.

A look inside the “3rd Base” cafe.

Third Base?

“The best place to eat is home,” Mishinski said of the diner’s name. “Third base is the closest thing to home.”

***

Hazleton is a high spot on the map in eastern Pennsylvania, about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia. It was called “Mountain City” by locals a century ago and “Mob City” by the East Coast media in the 1970s for the Scranton mafia’s influence.

It’s a 200-year-old town built on coal and the backs of immigrant families, a town that in turn built Maddon.

“I’m really grateful. That’s part of why I want to help this town get back on its feet, because of what this town gave me — the parents I had, the aunts and uncles, the teachers, the mentors, the coaches,” Maddon said.

Maddon has made big personal investments in revitalization efforts in his hometown, including joining his cousin Elaine and her husband, Bob Curry, in forming the Hazleton Integration Project. Its goal is to bring together a town divided over its newest wave of non-English-speaking immigrants, a growing Latino population.

“I truly was raised by the entire community. That doesn’t happen anymore,” Maddon said.
When people from Hazleton talk about Maddon, they talk about community, too. How he comes back, gives back, remembers.

“It never went to his head,” said Jim Correale, 56, whose father and Maddon’s father were close friends. “He never forgot where he came from, which means a lot to this area because it’s blue collar, it’s coal mines. People work hard for what they have.”

And when Joe’s family considers the man who was able to do so much with so little with the Tampa Bay Rays, taking a constantly changing roster of diverse personalities and often marginalized players to perennial contention in the rugged American League East?

“I think it’s his home,” said his sister, Carmine.

***

Bill Bavasi was a first-year administrator in the California Angels’ player-development department when he was handed a mountain of files on the organization’s minor-leaguers and told to evaluate what the team got for the bonuses paid to its players.

>>PHOTOS: Joe Maddon and the Hazleton way

The files included questionnaires filled out by each player. More than four decades later, Bavasi remembers almost word-for-word one of the responses from an undrafted Class A catcher. Each player was asked for his hero: “Everybody had Roberto Clemente or Sandy Koufax,” said Bavasi, who went on to become the Angels’ — and later the Mariners’ — general manager. “His said, ‘My father, Joe. He’s a plumber, takes pride in it, and so he’s the best there is.’
“I remember thinking, someone would hire this guy off that report.”

***

It’s a young, calm face that looks off into the distance from the black-and-white picture on the poster asking for donations of winter coats, gloves and blankets for those in need this holiday season.

The posters can be found all over town, part of Carmine (pronounced Car-MEEN) Parlatore’s annual donation drive, which she started 10 years ago to honor the memory of her father, Joe Maddon Sr., who died in 2002.

The face peers out from under a 1940s U.S. Army helmet, a reminder of the only stories Joe Sr. brought back to his family from his time in combat during World War II in Germany.

“He used to give out his hats, scarves, gloves, candy bars — whatever the army would give the soldiers,” she said. “He’d pass them out to the kids because they were cold, they were hungry. I’m sure the other soldiers probably did the same thing, too. But I have actual pictures of him with the kids.”

One shows Joe Sr. on a sleigh with a small kid on his back, playing.

“He was that kind of guy, just a wonderful, wonderful, giving, good daddy,” she said.

Generous, patient, even-tempered, a natural with kids, hard-working and consistent. That’s what those who knew him say.

“He could have the worst day at work and come in the door and he smiled,” Beanie said.
And according to his cousins, mother and sister, the Cubs’ Joe Maddon is the same in almost every way.

“If Uncle Joe was still with us, you would think it’s a younger version of Uncle Joe,” Mishinski said.

They all said that part of Maddon makes him the manager with the uncanny ability to relate to all kinds of people and inspire players. And maybe the ingenuity and creativity Joe Sr. showed in his plumbing business, shop work and carpentry helped infuse his son with the outside-the-box thinking that has become a trademark of his managing.

Maddon isn’t sure. But a few days ago, he thought of his dad and cried a little watching the “Have a catch” scene at the end of “Field of Dreams.” Wherever Maddon goes, he still carries the dirty, old blue Angels cap his dad used to wear years ago. It’s in his hotel room at the winter meetings in San Diego.

How did his father survive the horrors of combat with all that serenity and an open heart?
“Uncle Rick said my dad was the way he was and as patient as he was because of all the stuff that he did see in Germany,” Maddon said. “I can’t imagine him any other way, though. He laughed easily, smiled easily, angered slowly, and he’s about as patient as you could possibly be. And supported my mom. Don’t ever say anything bad to my mom or about my mom, don’t ever.”

***

Correale keeps a photo on his cellphone of Hazleton’s 1966 Punt, Pass and Kick competition finalists. A 13-year-old Joe is in the picture, along with an eight-year-old Correale.

Correale can’t remember how he did. Joe won every year he entered.

“That’s how I got my winter coat every year,” he said, referring to the letterman-like jacket given to every age-group winner. “I’m not kidding.”

“We didn’t have a lot when we grew up,” Carmine said. “My dad was a plumber, my mom worked at The Base. But we never knew we didn’t have a lot of money. We weren’t raised that way. We thought we had everything.”

Joe remembered finding little notes on his dad’s desk.

“Like to St. Jude’s hospital or like an 800 number that he saw on TV to donate money to, like 10 bucks. Who knows what he donated,” he said.

“And when it came to kids, he was always doing something for kids. And he wouldn’t tell you. He would just do it.”

***

Why didn’t he quit? Undrafted, released from Class A after a four-year run and a .267 average, why didn’t Joe Maddon look somewhere else for a career when he was done playing professionally at age 25?

Another decade plus as a scout, minor-league manager, roving instructor, working long hours, making short wages, starting a family – why didn’t he go another direction?

“Not him,” said his mom, Beanie. “He set his hat and that was it. That was one thing. He set his mind to what he wanted to do. He was going to accomplish something.”

FILE: Joe Madden Opts-Out of Contract with Tampa Bay Rays

“Because I believed it would work out this way,” said Joe, who after 30 years in professional baseball finally got a shot at managing the Rays, then helped a last-place franchise win 90 games five times, including a 2008 American League pennant – leading to two Manager of the Year awards and a $25-million deal to do the same thing for the Cubs.

Any weak moments along that beat-down path? “Nope.”

None? “Nope.”

Once he thought he was unfairly passed over for a big-league first-base coaching job with the Angels and considered looking for another organization. But he was talked out of leaving and within two years wound up on the Angels’ staff – in the big leagues for good.

“The thing that is heartbreaking for me, and maybe for him, too, is that his father or my father couldn’t see it – all his uncles,” cousin Elaine said. “Because we knew how hard he struggled. He was riding the bus. He was looking at prospective players and not making any money.

“But they were so proud of him. And if they could see him now, they would be so pleased with the man he has become and so thrilled with his success.

“That’s the only sadness is that his dad was never able to see that Joe achieved his dream.”

***

What makes Joe Maddon guy any better equipped for the rigors of Wrigley, the curse of the goat, the meat grinder of a franchise that has ground up the spirits of so many managers before him?

Tell him he can’t succeed here.

“He loves that. He likes a challenge,” Beanie said. “ Well, look at the big one he had when he went to the Rays.”

Bob Curry reminds doubters that it wouldn’t be the first time Maddon did something another celebrity manager, Lou Piniella, couldn’t, having followed the former Cubs manager to the helm in Tampa Bay.

“I don’t think Lou Piniella’s a bad manager. I think he’s a brilliant manager,” Curry said. “But it’s different. There’s something fundamentally different about Joe working with a young group of players, taking all their abilities, merging them with some really good clubhouse guys and making it a real team.”

With penguins in the clubhouse, by asking extreme versatility out of some of his players, with “American Legion” weeks where players aren’t allowed to show up for night games before 3 p.m., with theme-dress travel days, with by-the-guts managing after metrics analysis – and occasionally by walking a guy with the bases loaded.

“You just have to wait and see,” Beanie said. “I mean, what can you do? He’s not a miracle worker. But he’s going to try.”

***

Before his trip back home for the holidays four years ago, Joe heard about the tension in his hometown being blamed on the growing Latino population – provoked by a 2006 “illegal immigration relief act” that made Hazleton the first city in the country to pass its own immigration law. It has since been struck down by appeals courts.

Maddon said he spent time in the city during that trip determined to see for himself what was happening.

“I thought the city was getting very dark. I liken it to Pottersville in It’s a Wonderful Life,” Maddon said of the changes in his hometown that led to a massive investment back into the community, including the Hazleton Integration Project.   “I was really upset. … I got home [from a visit four years ago], and I told [wife] Jaye, I’m calling Bob and Elaine. We’ve got to do something.”

“I thought the city was getting very dark. I liken it to Pottersville in It’s a Wonderful Life,” Maddon said of the changes he saw that eventually inspired his activism there.

“I was really upset. … I got home [from a visit four years ago], and I told [wife] Jaye, I’m calling Bob and Elaine. We’ve got to do something.”

***

The Hazleton One Community Center on East Fourth Street still has caution tape across the part of the front entrance on some days. Machinery can be heard downstairs where workers install an elevator.

Two years ago, Maddon’s organization bought the former school building, and 17 months ago the facility opened with three paid employees and countless volunteers, offering language classes, citizenship classes, after-school programs for kids that include basketball and boxing.

The building houses Maddon’s Hazleton Integration Project and the office of Concerned Parents of the Hazleton Area, an organization founded in 2008 by Joe’s cousin Elaine Maddon Curry to advocate for social change and inclusiveness in the increasingly diverse city.

The building’s not even close to being renovated, but the place bustles with a growing number of people every month – an estimated 1,800 people going through the programs each week, Elaine says.

Next week, Cal Ripken Jr. headlines an fundraiser Joe put together at the center.

On this day, former heavyweight boxing champ Tim Witherspoon teaches boxing classes to kids from elementary school age to high school.

“How crazy is that?” says Elaine’s husband, Bob Curry, who, along with Elaine and executive director Eugenio Sosa, runs the center.

Former heavyweight champ Tim Witherspoon, a friend of Maddon's,  works with youth in Hazelton.

Former heavyweight champ Tim Witherspoon, a friend of Maddon’s, works with youth in Hazleton.

Witherspoon drives in from his home in Philadelphia to volunteer his time two days a week, with the center providing only his expenses.

Between services being provided for families in need and the integration element of HIP, the project has grown beyond the founders’ expectations — a bittersweet reality that comes with being forced to turn people away but one they hope some of the fundraisers can help remedy.

The upside is people on the street know about the project, and Bob and Elaine say that “without question” they see a difference in the community already – that sudden impact and widespread attention largely because of Joe.

“That is part of the reason we felt as confident as we did to do what many people thought was tilting windmills, believe me,” Bob said. “Joe was comfortable with taking on something outside his comfort zone but still had a basic understanding that what we were trying to do here – bring people of the city together — was different in scale but not different in kind from what Joe does with his teams.”

***

It was C. Maddon and Sons Plumbing, the first-floor business founded by Joe’s grandfather, Carmen, and operated by Joe’s dad and uncles – whose families all lived in the apartments on the second floor.

The kids all just called it “The Shop.”

Joe Maddon's family lived on the second floor of this building, above the plumbing store they operated.

Joe Maddon’s family lived on the second floor of this building, above the plumbing store they operated.

“We’d always say, `We’re going to the shop. Let’s go play in the shop,’ “ said Elaine.

That place, those memories, represent the namesake for the antique/second-hand store later founded on the same spot by Joe’s sister Carmine and their cousin Francine Umbriac: The Shop2.

We put the ‘2’ on it because it’s the second time around,” Carmine said, “for everything.”

The cousins opened a second store, on Broad Street, after Joe and Jaye decided to invest in revitalizing Hazleton’s traditional business district and bought the space a few doors down from iconic Jimmy’s Hot Dogs.

In addition to the antiques and hard-to-find knick-knacks, the Broad Street store has old, black-and-white family photos of the Maddons scattered about, including several of Joe Sr.

Carmine thinks about how Joe Sr. would feel seeing his oldest son now.

“I think he has something to do with the fact that he’s going to Chicago,” she said. “He’s playing something up there. I don’t know what. It’s kind of all lining up. I don’t believe I’m going to say this but … I better not.”

***

The Angels? Really? Come on.

It was mid-April when Joe Sr. died 12 ½ years ago, still cold in Hazleton when Joe took leave from his bench coach job with the Angels to go home for the funeral.

The Angels already were at a double-digit deficit in the American League West and sinking fast.

“I was back east for the funeral and we were bad,” he said. “I’m watching on TV thinking, `Oh my God, this is falling apart.’ And then get back out there [with the team] and everything just went, `Boom.’ “

About a week after his dad’s death, Joe’s Angels reversed a miserable three-week start and went on a roll that finished with the franchise’s only World Series championship.

Maybe there’s something to what Carmine says about their dad?

“There’s no doubt,” Joe said. “If you believe. If you’re a person that believes.”

***

Joe’s nickname in high school football was Broad Street Joe

Joe’s nickname in high school football was Broad Street Joe

The main street in downtown Hazleton is Broad Street. The big player at Hazleton High in the early 1970s was “Broad Street” Joe, a nickname given to Maddon by a football teammate.

“I was all Namath,” Maddon said, referring to his favorite football player, whom he has befriended. “I wore No. 12, white shoes, the whole thing.”

Maddon didn’t go on to star at Alabama like his football hero. After leaving Lafayette College to sign a baseball contract as an undrafted free agent with the Angels, he play?ed only four minor-league seasons.

But Hazleton knew who Maddon was in the early ’70s: The quarterback. The shortstop, pitcher and cleanup hitter for the ’71 Hazleton High baseball team that won Pennsylvania’s District XI championship, which was as far as the team could advance then.

He threw a no-hitter to clinch a best-of-three series early in the playoffs and hit a three-run homer in a 3-1 victory later in the playoffs.

“Joe was the best athlete in our community when we were growing up,” said Fred Barletta, a Little League teammate who now is the athletic director at Hazleton Area High School. “He was a better person than he was an athlete.”

>>PHOTOS: Joe Maddon and the Hazleton way