BRADENTON -- Decked in jeans, a T-shirt and a dark blue smock, Joe Maddon stood at the front of the Salvation Army's dining room Tuesday afternoon when he noticed a man with a plate walking toward the garbage can.
"Nailed it," Maddon, manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, said with a smile, noticing there was no food left on the plate. "Good. Good."
This marks the eighth year of Thanksmas, which includes a Polish/Italian meal prepared by Maddon and other members of the Rays organization and served to needy citizens of the Tampa Bay area.
Thanksmas came to the Bradenton Salvation Army on Tuesday, much to the delight of the folks who filled the building's dining room after waiting on a line that stretched out the door.
Members of the Rays organization -- including the radio team of Dave Wills, Andy Freed and Neil Solondz -- ran plates full of food from one table to the next while Tom Foley, the Rays' third base coach, stood by the door to hand out scarves donning the Thanksmas logo: A turkey wearing a Rays Santa hat and Maddon's trademark eyeglasses.
Maddon, who has led the Rays to one American League pennant and four playoffs appearances since taking over the team in 2006, got the idea for Thanksmas during his days with the California/Los Angeles Angels.
"I used to ride my bike up the coast and the Pacific Coast Highway," he said, "and see a lot of homeless people moving their
whole life in a shopping cart. And I thought if I ever had a shot at a bigger stage, I'd do something about it."
So Maddon used an old family recipe to whip up some pasta, perogies, sausage and meatballs to go with slices of bread.
Lemonade and water were available while two big chocolate and vanilla cakes -- Maddon took care of the slicing -- served as dessert.
The meal was prepared Sunday night inside Tropicana Field's kitchen by Maddon and others.
"I like to cook. I grew up in the kitchen, man," Maddon said, "watching my aunts and mom cook all the time. Besides that, it's where everybody congregated. So it's always been a warm place. ... (The food) is really good, and I would not be afraid or ashamed to serve this in a really good restaurant. The boys really nailed it this year."
Maddon spent Tuesday making his rounds around the dining room, posing for pictures, autographing scarves and jackets and chatting with anyone who approached him.
"It really is such an encouragement for the folks that either stay here at our shelter or have dinner here on a regular basis," said Christine M. Smith, the director of community relations and development for the Salvation Army of Manatee County. "It really shows them someone of celebrity status really cares about them. ... Joe takes the time to not only prepare the meal and serve the meal, but also, he always takes time to talk to each and every person that comes and really hear their story and understand it."
"There's a difference between just donating money -- that's wonderful; we need that," Maddon said, "but donating your time is the most significant thing we can do."
"That's incredible how quickly this stuff goes by," Maddon said, marveling at Thankmas turning 8. "We keep expanding, and I think it continues to get better. We want to continue to help more folks and continue to grow."