Like many professional baseball players and coaches, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon has a certain fondness for American Legion Baseball. The two-time American League Manager of the Year winner paid tribute to Legion Baseball last week in his clubhouse, saluting it and managing his team all week like it was an American Legion ball club.
Maddon hung a flag supplied by Safety Harbor (Florida) Post 238 in the locker room and used it as a backdrop during his press conference. He also gave his players a break from batting practice and pregame preparation — a managerial move that he says harkens back to carefree days as a Legion baseball player.
“We called it ‘American Legion Week’ to keep things loose,” Maddon said. “Most all of us have played Legion ball at some point, when we showed up 10 minutes before game time. We didn’t need (batting practice) back then, just stretch and go.”
In addition to being revered as one of the top managers in baseball, Maddon is known for his unique approach to managing, which places a heavy emphasis on keeping a relaxed atmosphere in the clubhouse. With a lull in the season that often accompanies August, Maddon was looking for a way to give his players a rest and keep the mood in the locker room upbeat.
He dispatched a Rays employee to nearby Safety Harbor Post 238 to retrieve a Legion Baseball banner. The post didn’t have a banner ready to pass off to the Rays but did its best to accommodate them by giving the employee a post flag that hung outside its building.
Post 238 Commander Tom Zbikowski wasn’t sure exactly what the Rays wanted with the flag and didn’t know of Maddon’s plans to pay tribute to the Legion league that reared so many of the players on his roster.
Zbikowski got a big surprise when he turned on his television after the Rays’ game against Kansas City.
“I had no idea that was going to happen,” Zbikowski said. “He hung the flag behind him during the press conference. I was simply amazed.”
The Rays, who currently sit one game out of the wild card spot in the American League, notched wins over Kansas City and Oakland during “American Legion Week.” To show his appreciation to the Legionnaires at Post 238, Maddon picked up the tab for all the drinks and meals bought at the post one night during the week. The final bill came out to $578.20.
“As soon as that TV conference was over, people started calling and wanted to come over and have a beer — people who we haven’t seen at the post in a long time,” Zbikowski said.
Zbikowski and the Legionnaires at the post went out of their way to thank Maddon for his gesture and the publicity he gave the post.
“I wrote a nice letter to Mr. Maddon, and I passed out a real nice thank you card. Everyone here signed it,” Zbikowski said. “I was just doing a good deed and didn’t know it was going to come back and benefit us tenfold. The advertising our post and The American Legion got was great. We’re real appreciative.”
It was a gesture of appreciation that Maddon didn’t mind doing. His organization has a history of supporting veterans and The American Legion, hosting a “Day With The Rays” event each summer with the Department of Florida’s Heroes to Hometowns program.
Maddon was also happy to have an opportunity to give his players a rest past the halfway point of the long Major League season.
“Particularly at this point in the season, taking so many swings and shagging hundreds of balls in the outfield can have an adverse effect,” Maddon said. “And of course I enjoyed the chance to treat the veterans of Post 238.”