TAMPA — Joe Maddon was at the White House last Monday, receiving congratulations for leading his Chicago Cubs to their first World Series championship since 1908.
Friday, the former Rays manager opened his Bayshore Boulevard home to acknowledge and support several Tampa Bay charities that help the homeless with donations from his Respect 90 foundation.
"That just says something about the character of Joe — he's an amazing human being and he has a huge heart and he knows how to express that," said Gary Haupt, area commander for the St. Petersburg Salvation Army, one of four groups to receive $5,000 donations. "To know you've got somebody like Joe behind you, that means everything about keeping you encouraged and keeping you focused on what you're doing. He gets it. He gets it like almost no one else."
Though Maddon left the Rays after the 2014 season and joined the Cubs, he and wife Jaye have continued to live during the off-season in Tampa, where both have businesses, his Ava restaurant and her Epic Boxing and Fitness centers.
So, he said Friday, it was never a question about continuing their charitable efforts.
"This is still our home," he said. "We spent nine years (working) here developing relationships, and for that reason alone, it's important."
Maddon took interest in helping the homeless while working with the Angels in Southern California, but felt he didn't have the forum until being hired as the then-Devil Rays manager in 2006.
He eventually launched a program he labeled "Thanksmas" — to highlight the need for help beyond just on a single holiday — that included appearances at several homeless-helping facilities where he bought, cooked and, with help from team staffers, served meals. He also held a fundraising event at his and business partner Michael Stewart's South Tampa restaurants, Ava and 717 South.
With the Cubs' World Series run extending the season to Nov. 2 and previous commitments for charity events in his hometown of Hazleton, Pa., in December and in Chicago this month, Maddon said they were too squeezed on time to stage the Tampa events this year.
But he still wanted to help, and to do more than just write and mail a check, noting he is "socially liberal" and prefers to assist groups that are helping people who want to help themselves.
So he, Jaye and Stewart came up with the idea for Friday's event, serving as both a fundraiser (with donations from invited guests) and a thank-you to representatives from the Homeless Empowerment Project, Trinity Cafe and Salvation Army centers in St. Petersburg and Tampa.
"We want to continue helping," Maddon said. "This is our attempt to keep the spirit alive this year. And hopefully again next year, we'll be able to serve again."
The recipients were thrilled with the donation, which could cover the cost of more than 2,000 meals at HEP and Trinity or more than 100 nights of shelter at the Salvation Army.
"It's such a spectacular opportunity for the homeless from the standpoint that Joe has a platform, and he truly has a heart," said Jeff Darrey, founding director of Trinity Cafe, which has two Tampa locations and is opening another soon in Pinellas County. "He's not doing this because it's going to look good for him. His heart is genuinely involved in this."
And it only helps that Maddon's national profile has increased. For recent examples, a crew from HBO's Real Sports is in Tampa this week working on a profile and the NPR show A Prairie Home Companion just created and released a song called We, Joe Maddon.
"The $5,000 is great," said Terrance McAbee, CEO of the Clearwater-based HEP. "But the exposure — having Joe Maddon contribute to your organization — doesn't hurt. It's great. It gives stature to your organization, especially that he wants to stay committed after leaving (the Rays)."
Andy Miller, area commander of the Tampa Salvation Army, said that can't be quantified.
"Joe has national recognition . . . and for him to say, 'I know what the Salvation Army is doing,' that they're not just helping bums on the street but they're helping people put their lives together, that has so much weight. He's just so good."
Maddon's Respect 90 foundation — the name originates from his belief that players should always run hard the 90 feet from home to first base — is growing, thanks to contributions from the sale of the "Maddonisms" line of T-shirts (including the infamous motto, "Try Not to Suck" on korked baseball.com), auctions (including a Cubs-themed Jeep he drove) as well as several charity events.
Having provided several hundreds of thousands of dollars of assistance to groups in Tampa Bay, Chicago, Hazleton and Mesa, Ariz., the Maddons said they would like to do more, especially to expand their homeless-helping Thanksmas project.
"My desire has always been to make it a national model," Maddon said. "This year, with Respect 90 gaining some momentum, it might give us some opportunity to explore that. . . . We want to get the money out there. We don't want it just sitting in an escrow account."
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected] Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.