Joe Maddon

Tampa Bay Rays manager

click to enlarge Joe Maddon - Heidi Kurpiela
Heidi Kurpiela
Joe Maddon

click to enlarge Joe Maddon - Photo by Heidi Kurpiela
Photo by Heidi Kurpiela
Joe Maddon

Since his arrival in 2006, jovial Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon has guided the team through four straight 90-plus win seasons (2010-13), multiple playoff appearances, and one memorable trip to the World Series — along the way winning two American League Manager of the Year awards. Maddon has a sharp baseball mind, but it’s his off-field lightheartedness and generosity that have endeared him to fans and Bay area residents. His signature horned-rim glasses and platinum hair have made him a memorable character in the baseball world and a popular Halloween costume for young Rays fans across the area. (Maddon gets dozens of photos each season of kids dressed as him for Halloween. “It’s a strange feeling,” he says. “To see kids pretending they’re you.”) His infamous themed road trips have grabbed headlines across the country. Under his leadership, the Rays have traveled to away games dressed as nerds, grunge rockers, preppies, and Johnny Cash, among other things. Each winter Maddon, a South Tampa resident, brings his annual week-long Thanksmas charity dinner — a feast of spaghetti, meatballs, sausage and pierogies inspired by a family recipe — to homeless shelters across the Bay area. Over the course of eight years, Maddon and a band of Rays employees, coaches and players have served approximately 7,000 people. The third-longest-tenured manager in baseball, Maddon has the team looking solid heading into the 2014 campaign. In January, the Rays signed a two-year $12 million contract with relief pitcher Grant Balfour. The season starts at home on March 31 against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Favorite sports bar: Miller’s St. Pete Ale House. “A bunch of guys from the bullpen love that place. [Bullpen catcher] Scott Cursi and our radio announcer Dave Wills dig it. If I’m going to meet them anywhere, I’m going to meet them there. There’s a diverse menu and the people are really great. It’s the one sports bar I’m really comfortable going to.”

Favorite ballplayer enterprise: Ducky’s Sports Lounge. “It’s Evan’s [Longoria] new place on Kennedy. I was there on VIP night. They have an interesting menu and duckpin bowling. There are TVs everywhere. It’s a little more upscale. It’s definitely an interesting new spot.”

Favorite concession at the Trop: Whitney Bank Club. “We have our own catering, so I don’t get a chance to do the concessions, but I’ve done events up at the Whitney Bank Club and the food is really good. People would be surprised by how good the food really is.” 

Best sensory overload: Mazzaro’s Italian Market. “It’s like one of the best delis in the country, not just in St. Pete. It absolutely rules. I do the Italian hoagie and get lost in the wine shop or I’ll stop in to stock up on canned goods to make spaghetti sauce. I’ve tried everything in that place. The bread is outstanding. As far as places like that go, it’s hard to beat Mazzaro’s.”

Best place to pick up a road trip costume: International Plaza. “When we have one coming up I’ll go to the mall a day or two in advance and I’ll see all these players running around trying to put together outfits. I see it all the time. I’ll pop into a store and [the clerks] will say Desmond Jennings was just here or Matt Moore was just here. It cracks me up.”

Favorite pre-boarding meal: The 1905 salad at the Columbia Restaurant at the Tampa Airport. “Whatever’s in that salad is ungodly.”

Favorite South Tampa hangout: 717 South. “It’s almost like they always keep my corner bar stool open. [Owner] Michael Stewart sits next to me for protection. My new restaurant Ava is opening across the street in June, so that will be my new favorite spot after that.”

Best way to go unrecognized: Biking Bayshore Boulevard. “It’s a real passion of mine. I get on my bike and I do a lot of thinking regarding the day. I’ll ride over to Davis Islands and back. Primarily I’m nondescript. There’s this one guy — a runner whose name I don’t even know — he’ll see me coming and he’ll put up his hand and we’ll share this little moment and continue on our ways.”

Favorite new date night destination: Tampa Bay Lightning game. “That was a great night out. They do a wonderful job over there. It’s a great facility. You walk into the stadium and the place is really alive. If you’re not a hockey fan you can still enjoy the action.”

Favorite recreational ballpark: The Little League Fields at Davis Islands Park. “It’s the coolest Little League setup I’ve ever seen. If I were in Little League, I’d want to play there. I’ve stopped to watch the kids practice when I’m out on my bike. I’ll see the dads out there coaching these little academies, doing pitching or hitting lessons. I love the vibe and how it’s quietly tucked between all this stuff. I’ll have a drink of water and watch from a distance. I totally spy on them and they have no idea. Maybe I’m looking for some tips.”

Favorite 2013 event, other than Thanksmas: Andrea Bocelli at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. “I saw his show right before Christmas. It was friggin’ great. I’m serious. He was fabulous. It was overwhelming to hear a voice as an instrument. I regret never having seen Pavarotti before he died. I would have loved to have compared him to Bocelli.”

Favorite view of the bay: Out his front window. “I feel so fortunate to live on Bayshore (Boulevard). I have the water, this urban setting, old-fashioned oak trees and this amazing bike path literally across the street from my house. It doesn’t get much better than that.”