Ask the 10-year-old why Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon has come to visit a group foster home, and he says it's "just to have some fun with us and do stuff."
Ask Maddon, and he cites the old saying: "There but for the grace of God go I."
Maddon and other Tampa Bay Rays employees came to the Salvation Army's Sallie House on Monday to cook dinner and hand out presents to foster children.
It was 18 days after Thanksgiving, nine before Christmas. Maddon calls the time and the concept "Thanksmas."
On the surface, Monday's visit was a feel-good moment of giving back. Maddon and others dished out spaghetti with meatballs and pierogi, in homage to his Italian and Polish roots. The food went to the children who have lived at Sallie House and another Salvation Army home for days or months.
Maddon also handed out shoes to the kids and agreed to some autographs — including one for a 5-year-old who wanted him to sign her children's storybook. He did — and recommended the Dumbo story.
But on a deeper level, Maddon said he hopes people who learn about the Tampa Bay Rays and Thanksmas will look for their own ways to volunteer in the community.
It doesn't have to be during the holidays, he said. "Thanksmas can occur in July."
Some people are professional baseball players and some are homeless, but "we're all pretty close to a pretty tough moment," Maddon said. Because of the rocky economy, "a lot of people that used to give are now in need." That's why it's always good to volunteer and give, he said.
Maddon said the idea for this program began when he was in California before joining the Rays and he noticed increasing numbers of homeless people. He said he decided to get something going, "if I ever got a bigger stage."
Now that he is one of the top managers in professional baseball, Maddon has the stage, and he is using it. More Thanksmas events are planned for today and Wednesday at Salvation Army facilities in St. Petersburg, Bradenton and Tampa, and also on Wednesday at the Homeless Emergency Project in Clearwater.
The cooks and servers on Monday included Rays radio broadcasters Dave Wills and Neil Solondz, and third base coach Tom Foley.
Maddon spent quite a bit of time chatting with the kids, who have been removed from parents or caregivers considered neglectful or abusive.
"Do you know who David Price is?" Maddon asked, referring to the star pitcher.
The 10-year-old boy said no.
But the boy knows who Maddon is. He called the visit "awesome."
Maddon himself kept a keen eye on the action, sort of like a manager who likes to scrutinize every play.
"This kid didn't get his meatballs!" he said, rushing to the dining area with a plate of extras.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8232. Twitter: @ckruegertimes.