CHICAGO — The forecast for Tuesday's Rays reunion with former manager Joe Maddon at Wrigley Field is a little bit of awkwardness and a whole lot of love.
"It'll be different," Rays veteran third baseman Evan Longoria said. "It'll definitely be different. I'm excited to see him. I had fun playing with him. We had great years here."
Those feelings are mutually inclusive.
Maddon, too, is looking forward to two-game series, acknowledging it will be a bit odd to be looking across the field at team he managed from 2006-14, and "even stranger when we go to the Trop" in September.
(Boos to MLB's scheduling folks, by the way, for not bringing Maddon and the Cubs to St. Pete for the first meeting.)
Maddon had plenty of nice things to say about several of his former mates:
On Longoria: "Aided my career as much as any player I've had. ... Shall be remembered as THE key player regarding transformation from Devil Rays to Rays."
On starter Chris Archer: "Miss our conversations. Beyond being an outstanding person and pitcher, I see Archie making many meaningful social contributions post-playing career."
On starter Alex Cobb: "Outstanding competitor and teammate and leader. Hope we don't face him."
He also poked fun at former third-base coach Tom Foley — "Didn't miss a sign in nine years" — and called video coordinator Chris "Chico" Fernandez "the best team concierge in history."
Overall, current Rays manager Kevin Cash said, "Pretty special day. I know it will be special for him. ... And it will be special for me. He's meant a lot to the Rays."
Mutual admiration society
Cash got the chance to manage the Rays because Maddon opted out of his contract after the 2014 season, but said he owes him for a lot more than just creating the vacancy.
"He's always been so supportive of me and this organization," Cash said. "He's always shown the knack to shoot a text message or (make) a phone call during some tough times over the last couple seasons. It shows a lot about a person what he's done over the last two years, he's worried about managing a team and winning a lot of games, and to take the time and reach out to some people he still cares about in this organization."
Maddon heaped praised on Cash, saying he "has a great combination of communication skills and baseball acumen. He's going to be one of the best."
Cash said he knows enough to not try to match wits with Maddon once the game starts. "I'm just going to try to manage the game the best way I can," he said. "I'm not going to try to think what Joe's doing because I'm not smart enough."
Hey, you look familiar, too
Maddon is obviously the most visible ex-Ray with the Cubs, but there are others of note. After not getting the chance to replace Maddon with the Rays, bench coach Dave Martinez accompanied him to Chicago.
Other ex-Rays who took more circuitous paths from Tampa Bay to Chicago include: INF/OF Ben Zobrist, RHP Wade Davis, LHP Mike Montgomery, pitching coach Chris Bosio, assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske.
Maddon has only been gone 2 ½ seasons, but of the 37 players on the Rays active roster and DL, only eight played for him:
RHP Chris Archer
INF Tim Beckham
RHP Brad Boxberger
RHP Alex Cobb
RHP Alex Colome
OF Kevin Kiermaier
RHP Jake Odorizzi
3B Evan Longoria
Though the Cubs won the World Series last year, the Rays come into this meeting with the better record, 43-41 (five games back in the AL East but holding the second wild-card) to 41-41 (two games off the NL Central lead).
The Wrigley experience
This is the third time the Rays are playing at the Friendly Confines, going 1-2 in 2003 (including the game when Sammy Sosa broke a bat filled with cork) and 2-1 in 2014.
Wrigley is as, or more, historical and unique than Boston's Fenway Park, known for the ivy that grows on the outfield wall (and sometimes impedes play), shifting winds that suddenly change games, cozy crowds and a cool neighborhood setting, with rooftop seating on nearby buildings. Also, despite other recent grandiose renovations, a cramped visitors clubhouse, workout facilities and dugout.
Only five current active Rays played in the 2014 series, but teammates with NL time have more experience, such as catcher Wilson Ramos (18 games), OF Peter Bourjos (15), shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (12), Logan Morrison (eight). Plus reliever Tommy Hunter spent part of 2015 with the Cubs, pitching in 14 games there.
"The guys that have never gone there before will enjoy it," Morrison said. "It's really fun your first time, but you kind of get over the nostalgia real quick."
The Ray with the most experience is Foley, who played there 61 times during his 13-year big league career.
"It's got a great feel," he said. "I always liked playing there. You walk in and you have to figure out which way the wind is blowing."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.