Thousands of miles from Chicago, Hazleton sees World Series as home game

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon answers a question during a news conference before Friday's Game 3 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon answers a question during a news conference before Friday's Game 3 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians

    Cubs manager Joe Maddon has Northeastern Pennsylvania roots.

    As the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians head to the diamond for the final games of the World Series, Carmine Parlatore will be in her living room, on the edge of her seat. Parlatore hasn’t been waiting for a Cubs win since 1908 like some fans. Just since 2015, when her brother, Joe Maddon, became the manager of the team. 

    Now, her family — and the city of Hazleton — is on board with Chi-town. 

    “There’s a little bit of Cubs fever here right now which is awesome,” said Parlatore. “Normally around here you see Yankee fans and Philly fans and Boston fans, and right now they’re all Joe fans and they’re all rooting for him.”

    There are Cubs signs and Maddon jerseys around town, and watch parties popping up at bars and restaurants. All of Joe Maddon’s old Hazleton haunts are filling up to hopefully watch their hometown hero make history. Most of the Maddon family is heading to Chicago for the final games, but Parlatore and her husband will be staying in Hazleton — the town where it all began for Joe Maddon.

    “He’s the perfect example of a small town boy making it through the support of a community and a family,” said Parlatore. “Any kid anywhere can see that if you work really hard and pay attention in school, you can accomplish just about anything.”

    Hometown hero 

    Joe Maddon left Hazleton over 40 years ago. But his influence on the small Northeastern Pennsylvania city is still strong. 

    Part of that is the fame that comes with being the General Manager of a major league baseball team, first the Tampa Bay Rays and now the Chicago Cubs. Some is leftover fandom from when Maddon was a local high school baseball star in his own right.

    And some of that legacy is just the Hazleton way — Maddon’s father was one of eleven siblings and most of those lines on the family tree has some presence in the city today. Drive around town with any old-timer and the Maddon name will pop up. 

    But a lot of that Hazleton cachet has been hard-earned by Maddon himself. He founded and funded the Hazleton Integration Project, a community organization intended to bridge the gaps between Hazletonians old and new. 

    Not the city of Maddon’s youth

    Hazleton is used to being in the news, but not for record-breaking World Series runs. When Maddon was growing up, the city was a pretty typical coal mining town, home to immigrants from all over Europe. It was almost entirely white. 

    By 2006, the city had become attractive to immigrants of a different sort: Latinos looking to leave New York City for a lower cost of living and decent paying warehouse jobs. City leaders reacted negatively to the influx of Latinos, with then-Mayor Lou Barletta instituting a controversial ban on renting to, selling to or hiring illegal immigrants. Hazleton became a national example of anti-immigrant sentiment. 

    That sentiment remained even after the law was struck down in court. When Maddon came home for Christmas in 2010, he was shocked to see the divide that had emerged in his community. 

    “It was a really bad moment,” Maddon told CSNChicago in 2015. “The town was dark, nothing going on, nothing to do. Kids had nothing, nothing to do and kids were getting in trouble.” 

    HIP, hip, hooray

    His cousin, Elaine Maddon Curry, had been working with some of the Latino families in town. She and her husband, Bob Curry, helped him conceptualize the Hazleton Integration Project.

    “Right from the inception with Joe Maddon, we understood the importance of bringing this community together and not letting it [become] two different communities,” said Bob Curry. “I used to say, we were like railroad tracks going off into different directions. But they’re starting to bend towards each other.” 

    HIP runs the Hazleton One Community Center, which offers everything from bilingual preschool to after-school tutoring to English language classes for adults. It has sports teams, chess club and citizenship classes. HIP serves hundreds of students, parents and community members everyday from every neighborhood and every ethnicity in the city.

    Originally, the appeal was the famous chairman of the board. But four years after the center opened and it’s a star in it’s own right. 

    Frank DeAndrea is the president of the board of directors at HIP, but he used to be the city’s police chief. In that role, he gave an interview to Keystone Crossroads in January of 2015. 

    “I’ve met with the, let’s call them the heads of the gangs in the city of Hazleton,” said DeAndrea. “I explained that I need the one block radius around the community center to remain sacred ground. If there’s a drive-by shooting or a turf war, it’ll be their brothers and sisters, their nieces and nephews, their community that suffers. We have never had a gang related incident within that one block.”

    Despite the positive signs coming from HIP, the problems that confronted Maddon in 2010 are still present in Hazleton. But Curry says they’re starting with the children and hoping to make generational change over time. 

    “We have rising crime rates, rising drug use, we have gangs. That’s all true,” said Curry. “What are we going to do about it? We’re going to show children they have a future and they belong. If you can show a kid that, I guarantee that they are not the kid who signs up for a gang. They are not the kid who does drugs.”

    Kids from the Hazleton One center will surely be watching the World Series, as well as old-timers who knew Maddon when he was in diapers. High school baseball players who have played on “Joe Maddon Field” will be tuning in, whether they are from the 45 percent of the student body that is Hispanic or the 55 percent that is white. 

    They’re all rooting for the Chicago Cubs, but really, for Joe Maddon, the local hero. And, Parlatore says, whether the Cubs win or lose, her brother will still have bragging rights next time he comes home for the holidays.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal