ST. PETERSBURG — The succession of holidays that lasts from November to January offers Americans a chance to indulge two obsessions: food and politics. In steaming kitchens and across crowded dinner tables, debate on the state of the nation isn't hard to find.
So it wasn't surprising that Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon would offer impromptu musings on the country's future Sunday while preparing his annual Thanksmas feast for needy residents of this region.
With the help of Rays coaches and volunteers, Maddon was busy Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field preparing the Italian-Polish spread that will be offered this week at several locations in St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater.
Maddon first introduced Thanksmas in 2006 to call attention to homelessness.
His helpers laid iridescent links of hot Italian sausage across oven pans. The sharp aroma of garlic frying in olive oil permeated the kitchen. The Rays manager paused to speak to a reporter about a topic that has been on his mind, as well as that of many politicians: immigration.
After he conducts his Thanksmas meals, Maddon plans to repair to his hometown of Hazleton, Pa. It's a city that has seen a rapid swelling of its Hispanic population in the past decade, bringing tension with some residents who resent their arrival. Maddon's Hazleton Integration Project was created with an eye to resolving those problems.
Along with Maddon, half of the American political firmament is also grappling with immigration. Following their defeat in the 2012 presidential election, which saw pronounced support for the Democratic Party among the country's growing population of Hispanic voters, Republicans are looking for a way to soften their hard-line stance on immigration.
On this front, Maddon has a suggestion that has traditionally been anathema to the GOP base: amnesty for the estimated 11 million immigrants who now reside illegally in the United States.
"I'm all for, almost like, a general amnesty program," Maddon said. "And then you set up laws that take effect at a certain date" to guide immigration policy afterward, he said.
"It's too hard to keep moving backwards," he said. "Let's try to keep moving forward with this."
Maddon, who described himself as a moderate with views that do not neatly align with either major party, declined to say how he had voted in the past presidential election.
"I think we're losing sight of the fact that these people want to be here, and if they want to be here, they probably want to be here as good citizens," he said.
Amid the kitchen bustle, Rays spokesman Rick Vaughn appeared with some bad news: There was no pork. Maddon needed pork. His meatballs are made with equal portions of ground pork and ground beef.
"We need pork," he said.
"We're going to get some pork," Vaughn affirmed, dialing on his cellphone.
Maddon appeared eager to turn from politics to the demands of the kitchen.
"It's all above my pay grade," he said with a shrug. "It's just what I think."
Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.