Cubs’ manager and Hazleton native Maddon enjoys first stop in Williamsport

An ugly first pitch and a thundering downpour couldn’t dampen Joe Maddon’s first trip to Williamsport.

Maddon, a West Hazleton native, was born and raised, and even spends his offseason, in Hazleton, working with many of his charitable projects. But the Cubs manager and two-time World Series champion had yet to stop at the birthplace of Little League.

One of his favorite days as a professional got off to a rocky start when throwing out the first pitch at Lamade Stadium for the Mid-Atlantic and West quarterfinal. Maddon needed three attempts to throw a pitch which resembled anything a former catcher or professional coach of 40 years would be expected to throw. The third and final pitch was still a tad outside, but the game had to get started with the dark gray clouds rolling in.

“I was trying not to suck, but I did,” Maddon said before facing the Pirates in the MLB Little League Classic at Bowman Field on Sunday night.

After that, the day far from sucked.

“The setting was very good,” Maddon said. “I felt like I was back home.”

It wasn’t just the fact that Maddon was 70 miles away from his offseason home, he was also excited about the Pennsylvania summer, which he only gets to experience maybe a dozen times a year now with most of his spring and summer spent in the North Side of Chicago.

“You wake up and there’s Little League Baseball. You wake up and it’s going to be humid and it’s going to get hotter as the day goes on. It’s going to rain possibly but you’re going to get a chance to play ball. That was the Pennsylvania summer,” Maddon said. “I’ve always bragged on the Pennsylvania summer. I don’t think there’s anything quite like it. … Never underestimate the power of a Pennsylvania summer.”

Maddon was back in Hazleton last week doing some of his charitable work. So he had a quick feel of the Northeast Pennsylvania summer he was so accustomed to when he rode his bike down the back streets of Hazleton and made his way to Freeland for baseball practice.

The feel and look of the area brought him back to his childhood. This time of year in this area, that tends to happen. But even for Maddon and his players, there’s something special about late August.

“I was very excited when I saw our names on the schedule. I would imagine every team would like to do this at some point,” Maddon said. “I know at this time of the year, we have TVs in all of our clubhouses and they’re not tuned to the Major League games. They’re tuned to the Little League games and I saw that game with Oregon about a week ago and how they came back. The players really are tuned in.”

Maddon’s day started with a pitch in the dirt and a slide down the hill beyond Lamade Stadium and ended with a handshake with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle after a 7-1 Cubs win.

With a backwards hat and his white hair streaming in the warm breeze and a smile from ear to ear, Maddon looked like anything but a manager in a fight for the NL Central. Instead, he looked like a kid, enjoying a typical Pennsylvania summer.