PORT CHARLOTTE — Manager Joe Maddon has a new cause.
Having worked extensively to help the homeless in the Tampa Bay area through his Thanksmas charity program, Maddon has now set his sights on his hometown of Hazleton, Pa.
In short, he wants to help integrate the growing Hispanic population (in excess of 10,000) into a seemingly reluctant old-school community to help keep the whole city from dying.
After meeting with Hispanic families during his holiday visit home, Maddon said he realized the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics there now are following the same path the European immigrants, including his own family, did generations ago but are not being welcomed.
"It's exactly what we looked like 50, 60, 70 years ago. … There's no difference, and I think that's where the people back home are losing sight, or our memories are too short," Maddon said. "And at that moment, it slapped me in the face exactly what we needed — these people want to work, they want to help our city thrive, and they want something better for themselves. … "
Eventually, Maddon would like to see the Hispanics opening restaurants and stores to revitalize the city. But his first steps will be more general, to make the Hispanics feel welcome and to raise awareness and some funding.
He hopes to bring in several Hispanic Rays for a postseason visit and wants to host a showing of the movie It's a Wonderful Life and stage a Thanksmas meal event. With the help of his wife, Jaye, and other relatives who still live in Hazleton, he hopes to find funding for the purchase of a community center, where Hispanic kids could gather after school to stay out of trouble and adults can take English classes.
"Let's take advantage of these good people and help them assimilate into the community because otherwise the city is going to go away as far as I can tell," he said. "It's going to be a very lackluster place to live and not attract anything dynamic. I think these people have a chance to make it a dynamic area."
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Among the themed dress-up road trips being planned: skinny jeans. … Maddon was ranked MLB's fifth-best manager by the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo. … After putting seven Rays prospects in its top 100, Baseball America also raved about LHP Alex Torres, calling him "the most unsung player in the deep Rays system." BA editors weren't kind to SS Tim Beckham, saying "there doesn't appear to be any argument" to place him among the top 300 prospects. … The Rays are planning to travel twice this season by train between New York and Boston. … ESPN's Buster Olney ranked the Rays' early season scheduled as the seventh easiest among AL teams.