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Think big: Thanks-Mas coast to coast

The kids had their gifts, and the grown-ups had their fill of spaghetti and meatballs and pierogies. Joe Maddon walked around the room wearing his Tampa Bay Rays jersey and a Rays-blue Santa’s cap. He shook hands, returned hugs. Smiles everywhere you looked.

The 300 people who showed up at The Salvation Army in Bradenton on Tuesday night seemed to enjoy what Maddon called his “Thanks-Mas,” the dinner he cooks and serves at bay-area Salvation Armies each year at this time.

Now what?

“We make this a national event,” Maddon said. “Why not?”

Read the papers, Maddon said. Layoffs and buyouts and companies going out of business and people losing homes.

“Not good,” Maddon said.

People need help, Maddon said. “These aren’t bad people,” Maddon said. “They’re just in a bad situation.”

Maddon is now the American League manager of the year after doing what many felt was the impossible. He shook off a decade worth of losing and managed the Rays to the American League pennant.

“You go to the World Series and the spotlight is on you, and that’s not the point,” Maddon said. “The spotlight should be on them. Part of us doing better as a team is things like this can be better, also. The idea is to make it bigger.”

Make it national.

Maddon said Champs Sports is on board.

Maybe Major League Baseball can become a partner.

“Maybe on Dec. 14 managers in major league cities do something like this,” Maddon said.

Take some time to help those who can really use the help. Cook and serve dinner to those in need. Hand out toys to the little ones.

“Too many times these people are viewed as being invisible, and they’re not,” Maddon said. “This is our way to recognize the plight of these people.”

Maddon started cooking for The Salvation Army in 2006. He could serve the food at Thanksgiving or at Christmas, but he picked a time in between to show people need help 365 days a year. Thus, Thanks-Mas. He was the manager of the worst team in baseball when he started. His job title did afford him a platform, but how many noticed? They notice now.

A handful of people waited outside The Salvation Army on Tuesday night just to get an autograph from the manager of the American League champs. They were out of luck. It was a closed party.

Unfortunately, more people showed up for Thanks-Mas ’08 than Thanks-Mas ’07. Hearing some of the less-than-rosy predictions for the New Year and Thanks-Mas ’09 could draw bigger crowds.

Maddon’s response? Let’s feed them all. No one goes away hungry. No child leaves without a present and a smile and the feeling that someone cares. Not just here, but everywhere. Let’s go national.

“Why not?” Maddon asked again.

Grandiose? Sure. But so was the idea of the Rays playing in the World Series.