Maddon Celebrates his Fifth Thanks-Mas Celebration




It is an event where velocity and speed are measured with sweat and muscle instead of a JUGS gun. It is a combination of the holiday celebrations that within the last five years has been a welcome relief from the cold harsh realities that face this region. The warmth and comfort surrounding the gathering is not only felt from the heat of ovens and stenos but from the laughter and compassion shown by one of the Tampa Bay area’s biggest hearts.

When the temperature begin to dip a bit here in Florida, it is a key signal that it is time again for the mass of Tampa Bay Rays office staff, players, broadcaster and coaches to assemble with their leader, Rays Manager Joe Maddon to begin the joyous holiday tradition of Maddon’s “Thanks-Mas” celebration.

This holiday season, Maddon and his every increasing band of Merry Men and Women will again assemble at the kitchens deep within the confines of Tropicana Field on Monday to begin the preparations on their annual Italian holiday feast of providing hundreds of portions of authentic Maddon inspired classics such as his Mother Beanie’s succulent meatball recipe and home made pierogies.

As usual, Maddon and his crew will prepare, transport and serve the meals to the less fortunate at the Salvation Army locations in Fort Myers (12/14), St. Petersburg (12/15) and Tampa (12/16). Maddon will also expand his journey this year to one more special location when he ventures to the local St. Petersburg Sallie House, on December 13,2010.

The Sallie House is a local St. Petersburg safe haven for children up to the ages of 11 who have been removed from their current homes because of expected abuse, neglect or abandonment. Children may stay at the Sallie House as long as needed – for a few hours or even several months – until they children can be safely reunited with their parents, placed with supportive relatives, or taken into a local foster home or adopted by a loving family.



(Rays Radio Host Dave Willis) Photo: RVaughn/

Doesn’t seem like it has only been five seasons since Maddon came to the Rays as their Manager and instituted this ever increasing holiday fest that has grown in size, importance and is a highly anticipated event by the community and the Rays each Winter. Over the past four celebrations, Maddon and his Rays elfs have helped feed over 3,000 Tampa Bay citizens who might be struggling or displaced by the region’s economic struggles. Each year you can see Maddon enthusiastically orchestrating both the kitchens and the serving area like a conductor on the podium.

This season some of the guests of Thanks-Mas will also be given the gift of a Tampa Bay Rays ” Hoodie” sweatshirt . The clothing item was made famous by Maddon when MLB sent a notice to Maddon following him wearing the royal blue colored hooded sweatshirt during a televised Rays versus Boston Red Sox series at Fenway Park in April 2010. Several later “Hoodie-gate” was resolved and Maddon again was seen on the dugout steps wearing the royal blue pullover hooded sweatshirt during the Chicago White Sox series.




“Thanksmas” can actually be found in the Urban Dictionary as ” a non-religious holiday observed by friends, not family who are unable to be together for either Thanksgiving or Christmas.” What could be more appropriate this time of year than getting together with co-workers celebrating the past years successes and failures along with the invitation of great food.

Maddon take his annual celebration to the next level by doing all of the grocery shopping and visually supervises the cooking firsthand so that the integrity and authenticity of his past holiday memories forged in Hazelton, Pennsylvania can be enjoyed equally by his old and new friends within the Tampa Bay community. I know it is a Rays post season celebration I look forward to every year not for the food and possible gifts, but for the pure joy of giving and sharing with a community Maddon also calls home.

Reliving my MLB Radio Memories


Today I decided to do something different. Well, at least for me it is totally different and a bit out of my high tech redneck comfort zone mentality. I have become in my own little video/television obsessed world a bit of a video-graphic fool who always seems to know the cable channels by heart no matter what subscriber service, and the broadcast times of most of the top shows (like AMC’s “Breaking Bad”) just on the tip of my tongue.

So when I looked during the off season at the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays road and television broadcast schedule and did all my usual cross referencing and synchronizing of both my time and social calendar to have the time and the perfect place to watch my Rays take on their opposition within the confines of my technological enhanced home, or the local sports bar with mega HD screens and the MLB package.
But there was one date in May that kept pulsating up at me from the laptop screen throwing a bit of a greenish neon glow harking me to the possibility of no baseball on television for one afternoon.

I instantly was drawn to the Saturday, May 8th game to command my instant attention that the Rays versus A’s game that afternoon was to begin at 4:07 pm EST. That game time automatically pushed it into that dark recess of Fox Saturday Baseball’s darkened stealth zone that makes it verboten that there be no other television competition while their “Game of the Week” was systematically going on at the same time.

So I instantly began to hash out a nostalgic “blast from the past” type party where I could again hit back to some of my youth growing up, and one of the last memories of my father before he passed away just weeks after the 1976 World Series.

The main theme of this sports bonanza of pork, beef and chicken BBQ-d goodness would focus on the old Saturday and Sunday family adventures that took my family into the backyard with the Kingsford glowing red, then black and steaks, ribs and mountains of hot dogs would steam, cook and become instantly invisible after the kids and parents threw themselves on the altar of my father’s grilling mastery.


For the weekend days were the time for him and I to listen to the National games of the week on the radio while enjoying the fun, sun and even a few laughs after a hard workweek. It was the perfect remedy for my father to forget the hustle and bustle of his job and connect again with me in our passion and fascination with baseball. And so on May 8, 2010, I wanted to pay homage to that tradition and invited a few Rays friends to my little hidden home and reinvest myself into this special piece of my past no one ever knew before that afternoon.

So I made sure to have the perfect afternoon of baseball complete with the grill full of charcoal and the meats all marinated and ready to awaken from their marinated slumber upon the coals. For today this BBQ would be a little more chef-oriented with my own special recipes for Dixie Cole slaw and Kansas City method bake beans and frozen Captain Morgan Lime Bite frozen concoctions. It has been so long since I had held one of these events, and the time and the game not being televised provided the perfect moment to go back into the past and enjoy some nostalgic memories.

Listening to the baseball games on the radio had been a family tradition between my father and I since I was very young. And since we did not have a local Major League team at that moment, but the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals had called our town their “Spring” homes, we instantly gravitated towards those National League squads. So as 3:30 approached I moved my bedroom stereo out into the backyard and positioned it for the assembled folks to enjoy some old time radio broadcast magic…the type I grew up with in my youth.


And sure the technology was a bit advanced as some people sat there on their I phones poised watching their screens with the MLB At Bat application while Rays broadcasters Andy Freed and Dave Willis began to get us ready for another afternoon of Rays baseball. I was anxious to hear again the descriptions and the accounts of the game without visually seeing the action right in front of me. It immediately harkened me to that simpler time of my youth where I would cheer and yell at the radio with each corresponding move either good or bad in the course of the game.

And even if the game did not go as planned, and the Rays lost their first game in eons, it was a time I really would not trade for anything. I again became in love with the game as told by two very descriptive visionaries who for 162 games a year tell the rest of the world what we can not see due to other commitments or driving to or from a game in another town. Again I could hear and see by the tone and the register of their voice the kind of play or action playing out in front of them, but I was blind to those events.

Some people at the party did have some problems with this concept, but they did enjoy the food and the conversation with a few adult beverages, so they too actually took in the day with a smile without knowing it. And at the end of the game after all the kids were packed up into their parent’s cars after soaking in the small pool or climbing the trees beside my place, everyone seemed to leave with a smile.
And at that moment when cleaning up I had a tear in my eye because the one person who would have enjoyed this blast to the past more than me could only look down and enjoy it from another plateau.

But at that moment I did look skyward and instantly threw a smile and a wink towards the heavens knowing my father would have really enjoyed that time with me and the other fans. I have missing those kinds of parties for a long, long time and really do not know why I took today to bring them back into my life.


Maybe it was the upcoming date on the calendar that proves I have seen so much and lived so well. Or it might just be the total fact that I did something special today and not until my friends read this tonight will they know the real reasoning for it. I would have loved to invite all of you reading this too, but reality is that my backyard is not that big, and Tropicana Field was booked ( not really, but whatever).

Listening to a baseball game on the radio takes a bit of imagination and creativity that we seemed to have lost in this video enhanced world. I returned to a simpler time, both in life and in my love of baseball. But I honestly might hide a small FM radio in my laptop bag for games the rest of the season. I revisited a part of my past and fell in love with it again. I now might just marry the action in the stadium with the radio accounts of the game to enrich and enhance my baseball experience. I guess that would make me a high tech red….baseball fan.


Hotel Indigo is “Rays Worthy”.

At least once a year I try and get out to one of the “live” Rays Radio Network broadcasts before the beginning of the Spring Grapefruit League games. And with only a handful of day before the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles in the ” new” Spring Training home, Ed Smith Stadium. The Rays Radio hosts Andy Freed and Dave Willis were going to do their Monday “Hot Stove” show from 7-8 pm in an old historic hotel situated just a mile from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.


The site of this weeks “Hot Stove” program was Hotel Indigo, which was known by locals as the Heritage Hotel until Tampa-based Baystar Hotel group bought the Hotel back in June, 2008 and pumped $ 3 million in restorations and modern improvements to the classic Florida colonial-style hotel. I thought it was really wild that they decided to use a hotel that is steeped in local history, and also carries a Spring Training vibe to it even today. As you walk into this quaint hotel you get the air of the 1920’s immediately as you see the style of that day in its old world charm architecture and details in the wood fixtures.


And with its ornate open-air bar just to your left as you walk in, it invites you to sit, relax and enjoy just as if you were transported back in time listening to radio hosts from yesteryear. And there is a distinctive feeling here that this hotel has seen more than it’s share of baseball lore as it was here during the heydays of the New York Yankees playing their Spring Training games in Waterfront Park in St. Petersburg after the team moved their Spring Training site from New Orleans to corral in Babe Ruth and keep him out of the Bourbon Street establishments.


And the hotel has been transformed into a modern business travelers dream with all 71 rooms going through massive reconfigurations and revitalizations that brought wall-to-wall murals, and rustic area rugs over the great hardwood floors of every room. And this not your usual “cookie-cutter” Florida vacation destination resting place, but a stylish boutique hotel that gives you more of a feel of a personal exclamation point to your stay in St. Petersburg, Florida. And it would be a great destination for any visitor’s coming in for the Rays games, either during the week, or the weekend. Rooms range from $ 139-199 a night and will have all the same accommodating extras as other area hotels, but will provide you with an added flair of Southern atmosphere mixed with modern elements.

I took a short tour of the rooms and it is a fantastic hotel just by it’s architectural charm, but the renovations also brought out some of the over painted details and carvings in the wood, plus the simplicity of hotel life in the 1920’s. With the added charm of a great dark wooden bar and the green-tones to the lobby walls, it brought a old Florida sense to the hotel. And that is rare in the days of basic beige box hotel rooms and doubles and twins beds. Both rooms I saw had their own sense of sophistication and modernism without losing the boutique hotel ambiance. And mix with the small of hot dogs being cooked, and popcorn being made for the Rays Radio guests, it felt like a baseball hotel.


I mean as I walked in, Rays Radio Network pre-game/post-game Host Rich Herrera was sitting in a cozy chair in the corner reading “Willie May: The Life, The Legend” by James S. Hirsch, so it instantly had a baseball feel to the night. And even if tonight’s broadcast was only a one hour segment, it was a time for most of the Rays fans in attendance to talk about the upcoming season, the past weekend events at Rays Fan fest, and just remark about this great hotel. And tonight the bar staff was decked out in Rays jerseys ready to offer you food, refreshment, or in my case, an extremely cold Blue Moon with orange slice.


I have to say the Rays Radio show went by so quickly that night, but I had a chance to chat with both the management staff and one of the waitresses from the on-site restaurant, and they were extremely helpful and charming. More often than not, I would be writing today about the Rays Radio show, but this hotel simply blew me away. I had been in it between the Heritage Hotel days and their reincarnation as Hotel Indigo, and I was simply amazed at the upgrades and the elegance restored to this boutique hotel within walking distance of the shuttle to Tropicana Field.

The hotel management took great care in restoring that old Florida charm with its seating area on the front porch, to the garden terraces laced with Florida vegetation, this hotel screams circa 1920’s elegance. I am one of those travelers when I go out of town to attend Rays game, I try and stay in authentic old style hotels that ooze charm and are accented by old architectural designs. This hotel to me is up there with the Hotel Monaco and Hotel Deca in Seattle, and also my favorite circular room in the Wyndham at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio.


And that is something I strive for when I go out of town for away series games. I want to feel something different than staying in a Motel 6 or Holiday Inn Express ( even though my fastball picked up 6 mph after a stay there). Along with the baseball game’s experience, I like to take in the charm of the city I am visiting by staying in a boutique hotel setting. And sure I might miss out on the free breakfast, or even the complimentary extra towels, but these types of hotels also show you some extras that are missed by the value chains. Small things like beverages and a snack upon check-in (Cleveland), or even transportation to the stadium by their staff, and not in some corporate 18-person van (Seattle).


The Hotel Indigo is just another one of the Florida hotels that gets it. Sure you could hit the value nightly rate at the Hilton Hotel across from now vacant Progress Energy Field, but you miss out on the little things and the subtle essence points this hotel spoke to me about on Monday night. Most hotel staff are courteous to their guests, but I saw it bumped up a notch at Hotel Indigo. These people seemed to love their jobs and it showed in their voice with the affection shown, and the historic references given about this often missed hotel. If I did not live locally, I could see myself staying at the Hotel Indigo for Rays games. And how can you not love a hotel that is within walking distance to great food options and a variety of entertainment choice, but in the end, how can you go wrong with a place that give you six pillows on your bed….Ahhh, luxuries in a romantic setting with baseball ties…..I am in heaven.


2010 Rays Fan Fest Photo Blog 1 of 2

I decided to break the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest into a 2-part blog post since I had reduced my photos down into 60-odd photos. I thought it might be best to start off with the first segment basically focused on the events of the day that were swirling all around Tropicana Field. from the moment the doors opened at 10:05 am (late) and ran until basically 5:30 as Rays Manager Joe Maddon wanted to give every fan in line a chance to get his autograph before they finally turned the lights out and we all went home tired and drain by all the sights and sounds of the day.  


As usual, I saw Rays Senior Director of Promotions Brian Killingsworth mad on his walkie talkie trying to get the day events started out with a flurry of excitement and give everyone in attendance a bit of refreshment. And the Rays did that as we strolled into the Rotunda at Gate 1, and were presented with a Rays Sky Blue inspired Fan Fest daily schedule offering the players and times for the days autograph sessions, and included a map of all the planned activities for the day.

We quickly got a burst of sugar presented at a sampling table by Pepsi Bottling Group which furnished everyone with a sampling of the “Throwback” soft drinks made with pure cane sugar and not the corn syrup we have gotten used to in our sodas. And the crowd was eager to get into the stadium and rushed the table like a group of marathoners trying to rehydrate ” on-the-run” as we briskly walked through Centerfield Street towards the Centerfield gates and into Fan Fest. 

But most did not want to stop by the Budweiser Brewhouse for a free sample (while supplies lasted) of the Rays new signature adult beverage or even the Ted Williams Museum to see the multiple displays, or check out classic baseball artifacts today, they had Rays players autographs on their collective minds.

But the line quickly formed just below the Batter’s Eye Restaurant in Centerfield where the Rays established a long line of twisting white chains to wind people to the tables to buy a silver wristband that would let you get your autographs for a $ 20 donation to the American Red Cross and the Save the Children Foundations. It quickly became the center of most of the activities for the first 15 minutes as fans then proceeded to do a quick tour of the outer displays and booths set-up before getting in line almost two hours early for autographs.

Some people did not even notice the always popular “Rays Rookie table as they first walked into Fan Fest nestled right next to the wristband area that highlighted exclusive benefits for Rays fans 14 and under.  And most people did not even see the American Red Cross table to the right of the wristband section that was offering a special edition Carlos Pena T-shirt produced by the Rays to celebrate Pena’s accomplishments on and off the field for the Rays since he came here in 2007. I almost missed the table as it was hidden against the centerfield wall where B J Upton usually goes to bring in long fly balls with his cleats on the wall. With only 500 of these shirts produced, you know it will be a classic Rays collector’s item in the coming years.

But if you decided to not get into line quickly and walked around clock-wise around the field you would also encounter Season Ticket sales and Fan Fest Ticket packages table that was eagerly waiting to show you the multiple advantages of Season Ticket ownership. Just beyond them was a four car set-up by Chevrolet that featured a simply beautiful orange and black 2010 Chevy Camaro that would have looked great in my driveway if I had not looked at the sticker price.  Just past that was the Ruth Eckerd Hall table where Rays fans could try and win a chance to get free tickets to events at the Clearwater venue.

After that on the infield side of First Base was Radio row which held the tents of most of the radio partners of the Clear Channel empire here in Tampa Bay. Also in this area was the “Maddon’s Maniacs” table where you could join or renew your membership for $ 25 and get your yearly swag and card that could get you discounts during the year within Tropicana Field.  Right next to them was the Rays Flagship station and radio voices Andy Freed and Dave Willis were on hand for autographs and photos with Rays fans.  WDAE “The Sports Animal” also did a “Live” broadcast from the Trop. from 9 am to 3 pm during the Fan Fest. 

As you went around towards Home Plate, you saw the table set up by the Rays Wheelchair Baseball team that just celebrated their 7th season and won the 2009 Division II Championship and are currently ranked number 1 in the nation.  Then right after Home Plate you noticed the large crowd checking out the Rays Silent Auction and the Rays mystery “grab bag” promotion where you purchase a brown bag for $ 20 and could possibly win a Rays game line-up card ( I got Rays @ Minn), an autographed baseball (I got a Shawn Riggans baseball), or a Rays Batting Practice jersey.   


Right next to the Rays Foundation table was the Rays Team Spirit Squad, which set up a table to give autographs to Rays fans and also promote the Rays Team 2010 Calendar ($ 15) and was more than eager to personally autograph your copy of the calendar. The girls were all eager and ready to chat with fans and even talk about their MLBlog that was set-up in late 2009.


Stuck right behind Home Plate and located in the usual food room for the Home Plate Club was the Raysvision crew on their “Casting Call” promotions for the upcoming season. You could sing Karaoke, ask a Rays player a question, or show your best dance moves for the camera. I actually got wrangled into singing Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” by a few of the Rays staffers who knew I sometimes sing in a cover band in Pinellas Park. It was fun, and I stayed there for a bit and saw some great fan questions and a few wild renditions of songs, even a Lady Gaga song. It was the perfect place to let out your inner “Rock Star” without anyone else catching onto your actions.


One of the most popular tables early was to go up and meet Country Rap Star Cowboy Troy before he went up on the Pepsi stage and did a few numbers before coming back over and doing autographs and photos with the Rays fans. He was also selling coins and CD’s to benefit his foundation which helps support the military troops overseas throughout the world. I enjoyed talking to Cowboy Troy, and he was excited to come back to Tampa Bay today and celebrate the event because of his love for baseball.


But as always, the Rays Fan Fest also wanted to put a smile on our youngest fans and again Bright House Networks helped the Rays in setting up multiple areas like the “running of the Bases” race section in the Rays infield, and the multiple gaming centers along the leftfield fence region. The first section was a chance to experience just what a MLB player saw as the ball came down from the roof of the Trop. I got to tell you, it seemed like if you took your eye off the ball for a moment, you lost it and it fell to the ground. Also a popular event was the Speed Pitch challenge where you could see if you had the right stuff to hopefully become a Rays pitching ace in the future. 


Right next to this section was the two Batting Cages  one set up  as a Little Hitters Zone so young Rays sluggers could get their timing down on balls thrown by pitching machines. This always has one of the longest lines and showcases some of the great raw talent in the Tampa Bay area. And even adults had a chance this season to get in there and try and hit that white dot in the regular Big League Batting Cages exhibit. It is always a blast to see a young kid around 10 years old beat up on his dad who is also hitting in the neighboring cage, but his young son is constantly hitting balls that dad seems to swing and miss on.

And as always, the Rays again had Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby set up where oversize wiffle balls and bats were used by really young fans to try and blast one out of the make-shift rendition of classic Ebbets Field. Also along the outside ring of the stadium, the usual gameday activities sections like along rightfield where you could enjoy the  T B Rays Carnival games, Raymond’s Art Studio, the Science of Baseball, Raymond’s Room and the St. Petersburg Times Press Box where you could get your own personalized  St. Petersburg Times front page.


Then if you strolled towards leftfield you could enjoy maybe making a replica Rays jersey, the Louisville Slugger Wood Shop, or even Make Your Own Baseball card for your personal collection. And if you were in an extreme mood, you could hit the Mountain Dew Extreme Zone stick ball diamond, or even the MLB 2K10 sports lounge where you could play MLB2K10 for free  on gaming consoles during Fan Fest. No matter where you went inside Tropicana Field, you could find an activity to make anyone in your family smile.

But also local theme parks like Busch Gardens was at Tropicana Field introducing Rays fans to their upcoming new park promotion “Sesame Safari of Fun”. Rays fans were also able to enter for a chance to win free tickets as well as try their luck at games on sight and also take photos with the Busch Gardens performers
There were even multiple baseball collections including some artifacts from the Ted Williams Museum and also the “Little Cooperstown” baseball display which has over 3,500 signed baseball currently in their collection. 


And if your are a “lover of the statistical”, or even just a lover of the game of baseball, you had to go by the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) table and try your hand at their trivia crossword test to win prizes or even sign up for the national baseball research group. One of the members at the table, Rays Season Ticket holder Bill Dunstone will be celebrating his 1,000 Rays game during the 2010 season. If you like odd trivia or reading interesting facts and figures about the game of baseball both present and past, this is the group for you. 


As in the last few Rays Fan Fest’s, Rays Radio Network Pre and Post Game Show Host Rich Herrera did the Master of Ceremonies duties and did his usual strolling around the ballpark letting the Rays fans in attendance know about some of the odd events and happenings during Fan Fest. One of my favorite is when he goes up to the signing tables and interviews some of the players about their off
the field contributions, or even their activities during the off season. I still can not believe Rich struck a “Vegas Elvis” pose here on the Pepsi stage before he introduced Cowboy Troy for his musical performance.


One of the events that has become more and more popular every season is the Major League Baseball Players Association Alumni table that is set up near Section 142 to provide autographs and photos with some of the legends of the game that live around the Tampa Bay area. Players like former Ray Doug Creek former Rays Hitting Coach Milt May, Phillie Robin Roberts, and other veterans like Ron LeFlore, Bill Demars, Darold Knowles, Mark Whiten, Wayne Garrett and Scott Winchester. Dave LaPoint was also in attendance today in the MLBPA Alumni 12-1 pm veteran group and he told me he was managing the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, which is not affiliated with MLB currently. 

Also during Fan Fest, there were two Town Meetings being held in the Batter’s Eye Restaurant. The first was a meeting with Rays Television broadcaster Dewayne Staats with Robin Roberts. The second Town Meeting was the first chance for Rays fans to meet new Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton along with radio voices Andy Freed and Dave Willis. Both events went along fantastic with each explaining their part in baseball and also telling great tales and stories concerning their time within the baseball ranks. Each session also included a Question and Answer section so the fans could get some additional insight into the inner workings of baseball.


But the main draw for most of the Rays fans in attendance was the autograph session from 12-5 pm featuring most of the Rays players and Coaches. Unfortunately prior to the event Carl Crawford, Pat Burrell, Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist had previous engagements and would not be able to attend. I will get into this deeper in the next section of my blog posting on Monday. There were a few surprises and a few late arrivals, which I will get into more tomorrow after I check to see if traffic situations did not compound the problems with some of the player’s signings.

Rayvision and Centerplate concessionaires  also had a promotion going on during Fan Fest for Rays guests to sample some of the new foods that will be introduced around Tropicana Field in 2010. In this sampling, the chef was trying to get a Rays fan to talk about the new Cuban sandwich selection that will be unveiled during the Rays home opener in April. The sandwich has a crisp breading and a highly spicy mustard that provided a great kick to the cooked pork and meat highlighted also by a sharp Swiss cheese. I think it will be an instant hit around the stadium.


Even “Star Wars” youngster Boba Fett had a great time at the Rays Fan Fest. What I always find exciting is the people who travel from great distances to come to this once a year event. Not only do they come from South Florida and beyond, but some people came here from South America and as far north as Ontario to partake in the Rays celebration with the fans to the beginning of Spring Training. I always thought the Rays should do a contest during Fan Fest to celebrate the fan who traveled the longest distance to attend the Rays Fan Fest. Maybe in 2011 they could award a Rays Fan pack to the long distance champion for their show of support for the team (HINT, HINT Promotions Department).


But I could not end this first blog posting without telling you about the GTE Federal Credit Union and their money machine. Got to admit, I was tempted, but with my luck I would drop all the money with one second left on the clock. I watched a few people use some very interesting cash collecting methods before positioning them for a chance at great prizes from their time in the U-22 Money Booth.  What could be better than coming to Fan Fest and getting a chance to win some additional money to spend at future Rays games.

And last, but not least, I wanted to say that Cowboy Troy did a great job of doing his songs on a make-shift sound system that did not rival the last one he sang on during the 2009 Big & Rich Saturday Night Concert Series during Country night at Tropicana Field. He had both young and old fans dancing near the Pepsi stage while he performed three songs and did some great dance moves and interaction with the crowd.

So here we are at the end of the first segment out of three of my postings about the Rays 2010 Fan Fest. Tomorrow I will give you some interesting facts and stories about the autograph session and a few behind-the-scene photos involving the Rays players. So I am already excited to get tomorrow’s blog posting up for you, but I want people to also check out this first segment before it gets lost in the shuffle. If you have read my Twitter account the past two days, I have been giving you small doses of some of the information I got while sitting in my Season Ticket seat most of the day and talking with Rays players, Rays Security and front office staffers. There is some really interesting stories to let you know about on Monday.  



Maddon’s “Thanks-mas ” 2008 Celebration



I was sitting here today at the computer in the house with the outside temps hitting the mid 40’s for the first time this season and thought I forgot something this year. It took me a short while, but I remembered that I did not write about the “Thanks-mas” project that Rays Manager Joe Maddon does for the area homeless every year he has been with the Rays.  I can not believe I forgot the one thing that brings the true Christmas spirit into my heart the last few years.


One of the things I look forward to reading about every year since Maddon came aboard with the team is the community involvement he has with the area charities and his demonstration of his great cooking skills. So in the middle of December of 2008, after his marriage and honeymoon European adventure, he made sure to come back to Tampa Bay and take care of some urgent culinary business.




But that is the kind of guy that Maddon is in life, he remembers the community . He is that guy you would want to meet you at the sports bar and watch the game with while eating a few hundred chicken wings while chatting about the little things in the game. I have had the pleasure of talking with him a few dozen times, and the guy it total class from the first word to the last. And he shows genuine passion for the area and it’s fans.



For that reason, I think the team and the community is so lucky to have signed Maddon to be our 4th club manager. Since his first days in office with the Rays, he has had an eye to the community, and had addressed the issue of homelessness and community involvement from everyone from the front office to the players. Rays staffers and personnel like Rays third base Coach Tom Foley, Head Trainer Ron Porterfield, and even Rays Radio announcer Dave Willis help distribute food and smiles during the event.  But the man of the hour is Maddon who truly  knows the advantages he has in life, and shares himself with the community anytime and in anyways possible to give back to the area.

And with his busy schedule after the 2008 season, you might think he would  shelve the project for awhile. But no, Maddon made sure that the preparations and the products was ready and available for his yearly foray into the kitchen to cook some home favorites for the folks in the Tampa Bay area.  He started this years adventure at the Bradenton Salvation Army where a roomful of anxious folks got to dine on Maddon classics taken from his mom Beanie’s recipe books.



Maddon understands that in the recent developments with employment dipping in the state and financial situation coming up almost nightly, that the community sometime needs a hand up, not a hand out. “Everybody just assumes that people within these circumstances or conditions are people who don’t want to work, or they’re lazy, or whatever,” Maddon said. “There are a lot of different reasons why people end up in that situation. And this economy is showing it right now, front and center. “

With the Tampa Bay area struggling, like the rest of the country during the holidays, Maddon understands that this is a national problem, but can only do what he can right now locally to help people understand they are not alone and there is hope upon the horizon. Maddon was quick to note that, “There are a lot of folks out there who would really much prefer having their steady job back and their homes, etc. This is a tough time. When you’re considering the homeless situation, it’s a wide variety of people and a wide variety of reasons why they’re there.”





This year is Maddon’s third consecutive year Maddon has hosted the event with the help of the Rays organization. As he has done in the past, Maddon prepared a traditional Italian holiday feast. With the help of Rays employees, Maddon shopped for the food earlier in the week before helping to cook and serve it at the Salvation Army. And if the meal was not enough, the Rays  also provided gift packs for the youngsters in attendance, and also passed out Wal-Mart donated gift cards to those receiving meals.


As the people began to sit down and eat his prepared feast, Maddon added that, “I’ve been wanting to just grow this thing to the point where we include families and kids, because people don’t even consider the children involved in this situation,” Maddon said. “It’s always about a male. It’s normally a male, 40-plus, or whatever, but it’s families.




“So the more we get the information out there, and the more we shed light on the situation, the more people gain an understanding. And I need to be more educated on it myself. But I do know one thing — it’s one of those things that sticks to me and I felt like I needed to do something about it.” 

Maddon wanted to add toys to the events this year because of a trend he was seeing in the past of the event where single parents and families were also being left homeless by the effects of the economy.  A displaced family sometimes has no choice by separate and find shelter and food in family members in the area, or even in shelters during the holidays. This broke Maddon’s heart because it sometimes separates the family at the time of the year where they need to bond and be as one. 

“Last year, when we went to the Metropolitan Ministries and at Bradenton, it was the first time we were exposed to families and single moms,” Maddon said. “And, my goodness, it’s tough, because you know where you came from, you know where you grew up. And you know what you’ve got right now and you see what you’ve got. And for me, it’s a tough thought.”




Maddon does not hide the fact that this situation gets to him deeply and sometimes he ends up in tears because of the suffering and the agony that these families must endure year round.  Hosting these events is just a small bit he can do for the community, but it is a very well received holiday tradition started by a guy who is just starting out on his own family this past off season. One of the participants in this year;s event was his new wife Jaye, who sported a “Rays” Santa hat and was all smiles as she helped serve the meals this year.





Ever since the movie, “Pay It Forward” people seemed to have taken a kinship to that phrase and made more of an effort to help people. I know I do, but is people like Maddon who can make a small gesture like these fantastic Italian fests that can be the fire that gets someone to the next level and back on the road to fulfilling his own dreams and goals in life. But during the holiday season, you want to believe in miracles and that everything is possible in this world.




“When I get over my crying, in a quiet corner somewhere, it’s great,” Maddon said. “The kids are appreciative. The parents, the people are very appreciative. And also the people that work in these places. We’ve really built a pretty good relationship with them also. And furthermore, it’s Christmas, man — it is the best day of the year.”  So there you go America. This is the kind of man you voted as the American League Manager of the Year. I can only say he is my candidate for “Man of the Year” based on everything he does on and off the field for the Tampa Bay Rays.

I want to than Barry Jones, one of my Facebook friends who is also the Rays Community Relations Coordinator and posted these great pictures of the event.