ST. PETERSBURG — He is looking forward to everything about it.
Making the familiar drive from his Tampa home over the Gandy Bridge. Pulling into the parking lot (though not getting nearly as good of a spot). Strolling into the dome he called home for nine years. Talking to dozens of stadium workers, Rays employees and others he hasn't seen for years.
Then, eventually, walking on to the field and looking first toward the roof where the banners hang as symbols of his success in leading the Rays to four playoff appearances over a six-year period that sure seems a long time ago.
Joe Maddon, back at the Trop Tuesday for the first time since leaving the Rays unexpectedly after the 2014 season and taking over as manager of the Cubs.
"I anticipate nothing but positive, lively discussions with friends," Maddon said last week. "I plan on enjoying it. Taking it slowly. Really looking forward to seeing so many people who I owe a debt of gratitude to. I don't have any negative feelings at all in that building."
Those feelings will be mostly mutual — which you'd expect to be expressed by a rousing ovation and response to a planned video tribute — but not universal.
There are some people, in the stands and in the Rays executive offices, who still begrudge how Maddon left, taking advantage of an opt-out clause with a year remaining on his contract, and to chase a rich deal.
And are further annoyed with the success he had, leading the Cubs to a curse-breaking 2016 World Series win.
Obviously, it's their privilege to express that, whether by voice or indifference.
And ours to ask, is that really right?
Ponder all the blame that was assigned — to Maddon for wanting to see what he could get elsewhere compared to the $1.85 million he had coming; to the Rays for not doing what it took to keep one of their most valuable assets; to the Dodgers for the hiring of senior vice president Andrew Friedman that triggered Maddon's opt-out clause; even to the Cubs for getting involved even though they had a manager, Rick Renteria, they then awkwardly fired.
Wonder about the specifics we'll never know for sure of the eventually contentious negotiations with the Rays that ended up with a significant gap between a multiyear offer the team said topped out at around $3 million and the five-year, $25-million deal Maddon got from the Cubs, that kicked up to $28 million with the Series win, plus a tampering charge MLB found of no merit and other pettiness.
And then consider it this way:
Would you not have done what Maddon did, taking what you felt was a better gig for much bigger bucks?
Plus, at age 60, when it might be your last such shot at that kind of deal, securing your family and your charities? In an industry where the nine years you spent in Tampa Bay was an unusually long stint? With fair questions about whether the Rays could continue their extraordinary success?
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And you'd hold that against him?
"I would be surprised because I was transparent about the whole process," Maddon said. "I have nothing but warm and fuzzy feelings here. I would be surprised that people would still be upset.
"All I could say was if you are still upset at the way it came down, I am sorry. But it had the best possible outcome for everyone, including the Rays."
Maddon means that, even if the last part sounds disingenuous given how they're likely headed to a third straight losing season since he left.
But they won only 77 games in his final year, there was starting to be some chatter about whether his message was getting stale, and he has since said getting new younger people involved was probably the right move, endorsing the work done by replacement Kevin Cash, to whom he sends occasional texts of support.
Could Maddon's unexpected free-agent contract status been resolved differently, or at least less messily?
Probably, with a little more give from both sides.
Would the Rays be doing better if Maddon was still managing?
Not necessarily, given how the teams were assembled, sustained injuries and performed.
Should Maddon be welcomed back Tuesday and appreciated for the significant role he played in transforming the franchise from the dark Devil Rays days to the glory days, for the memories he helped create, for all the good he did?
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays