Immersed in the Zen that is Maddon
When you walk into the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse, the quote jumps out at you. In English, Spanish, Korean and Japanese, the words embody the man in the office at the opposite side of the room. Some have called Rays Manager Joe Maddon a “modern day wisdomist of the first order”.
His frequent quotes from famous philosophers, modern day thinkers and even a few song lyrics project an image of a mind always at work. That last one might be the best description of the Rays top dog. He is always thinking, reading, mentally playing out scenarios, match-ups and situation, and it is not always on the ball field.
Maddon is a devote cyclist who has favorite treks in every American League city, and should add a new National League trail when the Rays travel to Milwaukee in late June. This is a guy who can chew gum, manage and tweak a line plus think about future situations all at the same time.
I am starting to think maybe it has something to do with being a catcher? Some of the best, and most entertaining quotes ever to come out of a baseball players’ mouth have been uttered by those blocking, trapping and positioning the glove behind the dish. From Yogi Berra to Johnny Bench, great thoughts, saying and even a few ramblings have come out of the bruised and battered fraternal position.
I have been a member of the Rays group, “Maddon’s Maniacs” since the first meeting, and always look forward when the skipper is coming down to talk to us. His cool and intelligent candor along with his poise and grace in speaking about his young stable of baseball ponies shows he respects effort, and rewards guys who think intelligently while playing the game as well as show hustle and effort.
Maddon’s mantras and exclusive saying have been posted on T-shirts, spoken about in countless ballparks and has shown that the game has evolved from just going by your gut feelings and hoping for a chance. By using his encyclopedia sided binders full of stats, situational results and even a few penciled in side notes, he has taken the Rays from being those lonesome losers of the American League East to the penthouse in two of the last three seasons.
When Maddon was first hired by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, some people within the Rays Republic did not see a direct correlation of how Maddon was going to effectively build on what former Rays Manager Lou Piniella instilled and drilled into the Rays clubhouse. But Maddon used his brain, he used his instincts and he bonded with his players out of respect and the admiration for the hustle and mind.
Maddon became the perfect mental and physical architect to rebuild the Rays foundation. He did it by employing a attitude that 30 minutes after a game whether they won or lost, it is pushed away and time to prepare for the next day. That is a huge departure from the old Rays thinking, and one that possibly got this young team to focus, play the game at a different level and finally mesh together as a team.
Even with the possibility of a step backwards in 2011, Maddon remains focused, firmly planted in his baseball foundation of playing all the game, then sorting it all out. That approach is new in this region for sports. In a community of mostly transfers and transients from other regions, Maddon has instilled some “Namath”, some ” Lombardi”, and even some “Casey Stengel” into his game philosophy.
Not too many fans root for their Managers, but I do. As much as Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena brought glory and rings to this team, it was Maddon and his mantras that provided the cement, the glue the mud that held this team together. Always wanting to play upon his team’s playful nature, he provided road trip themes like the All-Black and All-White traveling parties.
Add to that the Cowboy/Western style, BRAYSers, Soccer jerseys and Chicago Blackhawks gear and you get a Manager who wants to build on his team unity from within. Kind of remarkable how fast the Rays have gone from hovering below the .500 mark to posting three impressive seasonal records in a row.
It all started when the Rays did not go after the popular Bobby Valentine, pushed away the possibilities of Joe Girardi or Mike Schmidt to take a computer spreadsheet loving statistician who made his best decision while perched on the dugout rail.
No matter if you like his mantras, philosophies or even his witty post-game banter, you got to love the winning spirit, the spirit of exceeding expectations and pondering the gray areas of the game for answers. He is a perfect example to show that the era of volumes of sports information at your disposal plus the fast pace of the game can be correlated into one solid package.
Maddon was donning the binders and notebooks back in the 1990′s before most Managers even knew of the extensive factoids collected on anything baseball related. He is not the pioneer of mixing hitting and pitching match-ups to his advantage, but he is coming closer to perfecting it one game at a time.
Maddon is a mind musician, and he is playing the game of baseball at his own rhythm, grace and speed while producing awesome results and a new Rays legacy. Someday Maddon will possibly put all his knowledge and methods together in some form of written material, and it would instantly be the hottest commodity to own in baseball.
All this from a Manager that most thought might be a lifetime Bench Coach who eventually made the with with a bang and even made one of his early critics a true Maddon fan….me.