If you ever get the opportunity to be in Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon's company, jump at it, because he's sure to entertain. Maddon pontificated, as only he can, on a number of interesting topics in the Rays' dugout before tonight's series opener.
On the team's latest themed road trip, which featured bow ties and a nod to nerds everywhere: "It may have been our best theme trip to this point. Part of it was the participation by the guys and the cause attached to it. We’d never really tied ourselves – no pun intended – to a cause, and now we’ve got the bow-tie cause, [former NFL player] Dhani Jones, [baseball announcer] Kenny Rosenthal. Then you combine that with the nerd component, and I thought it was by far our best trip. It gives us something to think about in the future as we do these things to tie them to a worthy cause, it makes it even a little bit more important."
Why are the themed trips, which Maddon first implemented a few years ago, so successful, and why don't more teams utilize them?
"I think any team can have fun with it, it’s just a matter of how you think, what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior. It’s not deviant behavior, it’s just having fun, man. I always think that sometimes in our industry that we put way too much emphasis on how important we actually are, so maybe it’s poking fun just a little bit. At the same time, you can poke fun and direct it toward a good cause, and your guys are having a good time with it. So why not?"
I asked Maddon if the Rays were game-planning for the speed of backup Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach, whose only stolen base in his eight-year major-league career came in Boston's home opener this season, against the Rays. Shoppach (who played for Maddon in 2010-11) mistimed his slide and face-planted into the dirt, an ugly, embarrassing display that has been preserved in the Sox clubhouse, with a series of photographs of the steal posted near Shoppach's locker.
"Listen, we’ve had an extended meeting regarding no more stolen bases for Shop," Maddon said. "Does he have the base? He probably has the base, doesn’t he? Have him bring it by and we’ll have the pitcher and catcher sign it."
On a slightly more serious note, I asked Maddon if anything has stood out to him lately about the Red Sox, who are 10-3 in their past 13 games, despite a lot of moving parts due to interleague play and multiple injuries.
"Regardless of all the moving parts, their offensive numbers still stand out, they’re still among the tops in all of baseball," Maddon said. "It seems regardless of who they put out there offensively they’re always able to do that.
"I think their bullpen is really the part that’s stepped up mostly, and they’re winning the games they’re supposed to win, because they’re not giving up leads late. If you’re giving up those leads, that’s the most demoralizing component, and when you are holding on to them, that’s how you start to build."