TAMPA — He turns 63 next week, but the kid in him pulled up to a restaurant on North Dale Mabry Highway in his ride of choice this particular day: a 2016 Dodge Challenger Hellcat, purple with black race stripes, 700 horsepower. Muscle car. He wore blue jeans and a black T-shirt. Just another day. Nothing about the guy has changed.
"Why should it?" Joe Maddon asked.
Well, there was that World Series victory, the Chicago Cubs' first in, oh, 108 years. There was the victory parade, attended by an estimated five million people. There was the White House visit, everybody else in suits, Maddon in a blue turtleneck and green suede jacket ("It worked"), getting in just under the wire with White Sox fan in chief Barack Obama. The song "We, Joe Maddon," recently debuted on A Prairie Home Companion.
Maddon, in just his second season in Chicago, pulled it off. Now everybody wants a piece of him and his time, the same Joe Maddon spent nine years in Tampa Bay making merry and believers.
Did we mention the fundraiser Maddon threw at a country club near his hometown of Hazleton, Pa., in the name of his successful Hazleton Integration Project? Cubs lifer Bill Murray drove over from New York City.
"Bill Murray crashed the party. That was outstanding," Maddon said.
It's good to be Joe.
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But he sat there in the restaurant and became just as excited going local, telling you about the pirate coat he'd bought for his Gasparilla party, which rocked at his house on Bayshore Boulevard. Being home in Tampa, laying low, matters to Maddon, certainly more than appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which didn't make Maddon's cut.
"I've turned down so many things. Because you have to do nothing at some point."
It is still hard to believe it all happened. The Cubs beat the Dodgers and the Giants and then came from behind to beat the Indians. People are still questioning how Maddon used Aroldis Chapman — Chapman is one of the people — but the Cubs are kings and Maddon is the man.
Name me another person who could have turned a semi-crude slogan, "Try Not To Suck," into a T-shirt cottage industry that ended up generating half a million dollars for Maddon charitable initiatives, which include his new Respect 90 Foundation, still in its infancy.
"Those T-shirts killed last year. Try Not To Suck."
Maddon will head to Arizona and Cubs spring training later this week with his wife, Jaye, in their new RV. Maddon has a deal cooking with Winnebago.
Did we mention that it's good to be Joe?
Around the time of the College Football Playoff championship game in Tampa, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney asked his friend Maddon to speak to his team. Maddon put together a video.
"I focused on do not permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure," Maddon said. "And the quarterback said that after the game."
Deshaun Watson and Clemson beat Alabama for the national title.
On to the 2017 Cubs.
"I'm trying to guard against complacency now," Maddon said. "My biggest concern moving forward is that we don't get comfortable. That's why I'm going with 'Be Uncomfortable.'"
Back to 2016.
Five million people.
"It's staggering." Maddon said. "You can't even imagine what that looked like. Then you get to Grant Park and you walk up on the stage and literally I thought of Richie Havens, that's the first thing I thought of."
It's good to be Joe. Not that he's the pope. We know that because Maddon and his wife were asked to be part of the November traveling party to the Vatican to see the real pope make Chicago archbishop Blase Cupich a cardinal.
"But that was the weekend of the Lafayette gig which we'd planned for a year," Maddon said.
The Lafayette gig was for the big Lafayette-Lehigh game. Lafayette alum Maddon threw a party at the Zeta fraternity house, Maddon's old stomping grounds. Music featured E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg. Max and Joe are friends. Maddon spoke to the Lafayette football team, spoke to everybody. Then there was the game.
"We got our butts kicked. The coach got fired."
OK, so it wasn't a perfect 2016.
Joe Maddon wants to keep his world champions uncomfortable. The grandfather of five thinks that way himself. He is convinced it keeps him from getting old. That and the Hellcat.
"It's kind of weird to think I'll be 63 in a few weeks," Maddon said. "Because I don' think that at all, I don't get that."
He's Joe. It's good to be him.
Better than ever, in fact.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais