Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon has high hopes for the 2011 season

Toward the end of spring training, the ever-amiable manager of the Tampa Bay Rays sat down with Creative Loafing to talk optimistically about the season ahead, team chemistry and the latest in men's fashion crimes.

A week later, the Rays endured an opening-weekend sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles, scoring one measly run in each of three games and losing Evan Longoria to the 15-day disabled list.

Soooo... Maddon's optimism was perhaps a bit unfounded. But disappointments like those opening losses are to be expected from time to time when you play in the toughest division in baseball. What remains to be seen is how the team responds to the prospect of scoring only 162 runs in the season.

Here's what Bro Maddon had to say on the final Friday of spring training (read: better times).

Kevin Tall: Let's dive right in. What are your expectations for this season?

Joe Maddon: To repeat as A.L. East champs. That's my expectation, and then take it from there...

Which team poses the greatest threat to the Rays' divisional hopes?

You have to lean toward Boston first, probably, and then us and the Yankees, although, I'm telling you, Toronto's a lot better, Baltimore's a lot better; this division has really gotten exponentially more difficult this year. I've had this conversation with people: it's going to be really tough to go .500-plus in this division. We play each other 70-some times; it's going to be really competitive.

Describe your managerial style in 20 words or less.

First of all [clearing throat], I hate self-definition. Second of all, I'd like to believe it's communicative. I'd like to believe it's creative. Upbeat and energetic; maybe that's redundant, I don't know. If I could be considered in those words I'd be very pleased.

Talk to me about the arrival of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. What effect do they have in the clubhouse and on the field?

In the clubhouse, their effect has been welcomed. A combination of demonstration of great work ethic and the ability to relax and have fun a bit. Not that we were uptight, but when you get some veterans like that, that have won, that have great spirits about them, they're infectious in a positive way. They really have demonstrated that already in the clubhouse and on the field.

Manny's spent some time in left field this spring. How often do you anticipate putting him there during the regular season?

I'm not sure yet but I think it's going to be important to get him out there every once in a while... There might just be the day when injuries catch up to you somehow... and it might be better to put him out there and let someone else DH. There's different ways. I don't know that he's ready for just a total break — would that be an outfield-ectomy of some kind? — where he's just not going to play there anymore. Maybe 'defensive-ectomy'; something along those lines.

What road-trip themes do you have in mind for this year?

You know what? I'm really trying to float the idea of the skinny jeans; I'm really meeting a lot of resistance with that right now, mostly from the heavy guys. I'd really like to go 'skinny jeans, shirt tucked.' That would really make quite an impression and an impact, I think... Also, I thought of this yesterday, having letterman's sweaters. Not jackets but the old button-down sweaters with a big 'R' on it somewhere. That's something you could give to your wife or your girlfriend when you're done; that'd be kind of cool.

You're on Twitter on almost a daily basis. What purpose does social networking serve for you?

That's definitely for the fans. I'm really not a narcissistic person. I really find a lot of that, social media-wise, you have to have some of that within your personality, I think, to really feel as though somebody wants to read my deepest, darkest thoughts all day long. I feel like I'm tweeting all day long just by talking to you and the media.

Give me a quick fastball about the 'no haircuts' thing.

A couple of things happened. In this past offseason I ran into a bunch of old slides, from 1978, of me when I was playing for the Salinas Angels and my hair was very long. I had a mustache, not that I like the mustache at all. But I just thought, 'You know what? It might be time.' I've been doing the crew cuts for such a long time now; it might be time to bring back the long hair. And then we signed Manny. And then I show up and [bench coach] Davey Martinez has got the Grizzly Adams thing going on. And I'm looking at society in general; I think it might be time for long hair to come back. So for all those different reasons, and just to do something different, which I really enjoy doing just to do it.

For a longer version of Kevin Tall's interview with Joe Maddon, go to cltampa.com/sports

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