The Lafayette baseball team took a detour during its spring break trip in Florida. During a scheduled travel day between Winter Haven and Tampa, the Leopards first headed south to Charlotte Sports Park, the spring training home of the Tampa Bay Rays, as guests of manager Joe Maddon ’76.
The 2008 and 2011 American League Manager of the Year, Maddon met with the Leopards prior to the Rays’ afternoon game. He discussed his current club, which won 91 games last season en route to the AL Wild Card, and fielded questions from the student-athletes and coaches.
“The experience was awesome for our team,” says co-captain John Gentile ’12. “Coach Maddon talked to us about changing the culture and building trust in the clubhouse. He said a lot of things that we can use to improve on the field as a team and off the field as individuals.”
Maddon, who majored in economics, was a catcher at Lafayette from 1973-75 under head coach Norm Gigon. He was initially recruited to play football and played one season of freshman football. In his final football game, he completed 14 of 17 passes for four touchdowns in a win over Lehigh. The Hazleton, Pa., native then turned his attention exclusively to baseball and played three seasons on the diamond at College Hill before signing as a free agent with the California Angels.
After four years as a backstop in the Angels’ minor league system, Maddon remained with the organization in various coaching roles. He served two short stints as interim manager of the Angels in 1996 and 1999 and was a bench coach for the club’s 2002 World Series Championship. He became the Rays’ manager in November 2005. Maddon, a 2009 Maroon Club Hall of Fame inductee, was awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree from Lafayette Sept. 2, 2010.
“Coach Maddon has been a great friend to Lafayette baseball,” says Gentile. “From his generous donation in our current auction to inviting us to spend the day with him and his team, he has always been willing to help in any way he can. Our program is lucky to have an alumnus like Coach Maddon.”
After the skipper headed back to the clubhouse to prepare for the Rays’ upcoming contest against the Phillies, the Leopards’ hitters were invited to meet with batting coach Derek Shelton while the pitchers congregated in the bullpen with pitching coach Jim Hickey. The group reconvened after the separate question-and-answer sessions for a conversation with Tampa Bay’s director of minor league operations, Mitch Lukevics.
Lafayette’s tour of Charlotte Sports Park was conducted by Jeff Butler ’09, a four-year starter for Joe Kinney and a current advanced scout and minor league video coordinator for Tampa Bay. The Rays’ state-of-the-art spring training facility is also the regular season home of the Charlotte Stone Crabs, Tampa Bay’s Class A Advanced affiliate from the Florida State League.