It has been three years since World Series-winning manager Joe Maddon left the Tampa Bay Rays. But he never really left Tampa Bay.
Even as he guided the Chicago Cubs to a historic championship in 2016, Maddon remained a fixture in the bay area. He still has his off-season home on Bayshore Boulevard, his Italian restaurant Ava in South Tampa and his Respect 90 Foundation is also here.
Now "Thanksmas" is back, too. That’s the name of Maddon’s effort to feed the homeless using his mother’s recipes back when he managed the Rays.
He resumed that charitable tradition Monday evening, serving spaghetti dinners to help feed the 90 or so people staying at the Salvation Army of Tampa’s emergency shelter. There will be more lunches and dinners for the homeless to come this week.
"These folks are good people," Maddon said. "They’ve fallen on hard times for a variety of reason."
This is the first time since 2014 that Maddon’s Respect 90 Foundation has held the "Thanksmas" program in the Tampa Bay area.
But this time, Maddon didn’t cook the meals himself like he used to. This year’s meals, based on his traditional holiday Itallian-Polish recipes, were made by the restaurant 717 South.
In between selfies with fans, the three-time manager of the year (twice in the American League and once in the National League) talked about how important a sit-down meal is, just like the ones his mother, Beanie Maddon, served to the family back when he was growing up in Hazleton, Pa.
"My mom cooked dinner every night," Maddon said. "At 5:30 my dad would come home from work and we would all sit at the table, enjoy the meal and have conversation .?.?. It can really bring families together."
"Thanksmas" has fed thousands of homeless in the past, ever since Maddon’s first year with the Rays back in 2006. He said it was important to bring the tradition back to the bay area.
"We’ve been doing it in Chicago and at my hometown in Pennsylvania," Maddon said. "When I went to the Cubs, things got a little complicated and busy. But now that we are getting our feet back on the ground, we are back."
His foundation also partnered with Citypak, a nonprofit that designs backpacks specifically for the homeless, to hand out backpacks and Under Armour socks. They aim to hand out 13,000 of the bags before the week is over.
The Cubs manager walked around the room and shook hands with nearly everyone who came to eat. Darrel Fugate, 56, who is staying at the shelter, was quick to whip out his phone and take a photo with Maddon.
"I’m a Cardinals fan myself," Fugate said "But I’m really glad he did what he did for us."
Fourteen players from the Steinbrenner High School baseball team and their coaches did much of the serving and backpack prepping.
Steinbrenner High catcher Griffin Garcia, 16, said it was a lifelong dream to meet Maddon.
"I’ve always wanted to meet him when he was with the Rays," Garcia said after he was done handing out plates of food and got to sit down himself to eat. "He’s the best manager in baseball."
The foundation plans to serve more meals in conjunction with three high school baseball teams: the Northeast High team will help serve meals at 5:30 p.m. today at the Pinellas Hope homeless shelter, 5726 126th Ave. N in Clearwater; the Northside Christian School team will serve meals at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Salvation Army, 340 14th Ave. S in St. Petersburg; and the Jesuit High team will serve food at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Trinity Cafe, 2801 N Nebraska Ave. in Tampa.
Contact Jonathan Capriel at email@example.com. Follow @jonathancapriel.