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Trip to St. Louis has extra meaning for Joe Maddon


The summer of 1964 is best remembered by most members of the Maddon family as the summer the roof leaked. The guys who came to fix it were New York Yankees fans, and they got a kick out of the 10-year-old Maddon boy who wore the St. Louis Cardinals cap and thought Curt Flood was a better center fielder than Mickey Mantle.

You kidding me, kid?

That would be Joe, who spent the summer nights of his childhood listening to Cardinals games on his transistor radio, turning the radio this way and that to keep the KMOX signal.

“And at the most critical moment, it would fade out,” Maddon said.

Anyway, little Joe followed his Cardinals that summer all the way to October when they took down the mighty Yankees in the World Series, an event that sent Joe through the streets of Hazleton, Pa., in search of a certain group of roofers.

The little pest with the Cardinals cap had the last laugh, and he let them know it.

Tonight, after the Tampa Bay Rays wrap up this three-game series with the Oakland A’s, that little Cardinals fan now all grown up and managing the Rays, will board a charter flight to St. Louis.

On Tuesday, he will manage the American League team in the All-Star Game, his reward for guiding the Rays to the World Series last October.

Joe Maddon, All-Star manager.

“Unbelievable,” Maddon said.

Joe Maddon managing the All-Star Game in Busch Stadium, home of his once beloved Cardinals.

“Really unbelievable,” he said.

Maddon became a Cardinals fan the day his dad took him to see the Yankees play the Chicago White Sox in the summer of 1963.

“Wanna hat?” dad ask as they walked past a concession stand on their way out of Yankee Stadium.

“Sure,” son said.

Maddon picked the blue Cardinals cap, because he loved the logo.

“I could draw that logo from memory on all my notebooks,” Maddon said.

It wasn’t just the St. Louis baseball Cardinals that captured Maddon’s heart. It was the St. Louis football Cardinals, too.

In February, Maddon saw the Cardinals — now in Arizona — play in the Super Bowl.

In March, Maddon watched as an arm wrapped in a red Cardinals warm-up jacket reached through a crowd of reporters in Jupiter. It belonged to Baseball Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, the former Cardinals great who just wanted to say hello.

“You kidding me? Red Schoendienst,” Maddon later said.

While the rest of Hazleton rooted for the Yankees or Philadelphia Phillies or Boston Red Sox or Baltimore Orioles, Maddon rooted for his Redbirds.

“There weren’t many Cardinal fans around town,” said Dave Cassarella, one of Maddon’s long-time friends.

There was Johnny Barletta, who was older than Maddon and wore a red Cardinals windbreaker.

And a guy named Stanley, who would drive his family the nearly 800 miles to see the Cardinals play at Busch Stadium.

“He was the biggest Cardinal fan I ever knew,” Cassarella said. “Bigger than Joe; 10 times bigger.”

Maddon would give Stanley money to pick up a T-shirt or a scorecard.

Maddon already had the yearbook. He’d send away for one each spring, dropping 50 cents in the mail.

He followed Flood and Lou Brock and Bob Gibson through the static on his transistor radio and the box scores in the morning paper.

Forget about it when the Cardinals were on the Saturday game of the week.

“They made all those summer months really fun,” Maddon said. “It impacted my life.”

Tonight, Maddon heads to St. Louis to manage an All-Star Game in the new Busch Stadium.

You kidding me, kid?

“This situation is kind of unique,” Maddon said. “You have no idea how closely I was linked to this group for so many years. To be a manager of an All-Star Game there is almost unbelievable for me. I am honored to do this.”