HAZLETON, Pa. — A sliding door inside Cusat’s Café separates the restaurant from the bar, where smoking is allowed, pizza is “pitz” and a can of cold Yuengling is $1. The mayor, who had to give up ownership of the place once he took office, lives upstairs. He grew up there and lived in three other spots around the block before returning for good. “I moved four times,” Jeff Cusat said, “and the view out my front window never changed.”
On Wednesday night shortly before 8 p.m., start time of Game 4 of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, Ann Marie Kaschak sat at one end of the bar. “Can you put the pregame on that one?” she asked bartender Sandy Sarosky, pointing at a television between puffs on a Misty. “In case they show Joe.”
She didn’t want to miss Joe Maddon, the manager of the Chicago Cubs and a favorite son of Hazleton, the hardscrabble town in Northeastern Pennsylvania he still loves. He maintains a close bond to the place he grew up, still trying to shape the town that shaped him. Maddon’s mother, sister and an innumerable amount of cousins still live there, and he returns once or twice a year.
“He hasn’t forgot where his roots are,” Kaschak said. “He may be manager of the year, but he’s still a Hazleton boy. He’ll stop down at the Turkey Hill for a coffee. It’s, ‘Hey, Joe.’ ‘Hey, can I get your coffee for you?’”
During his introductory press conference, Maddon famously offered to buy everyone in the room a shot and a beer — “the Hazleton way,” he said. He remains in contact with people in those bars. Swing Club had closed for a few days because a co-owner suffered a heart attack. Maddon had called him in the hospital no fewer than three times in the two days since.
“I stay in touch with all these guys all the time,” Maddon said during a press conference in Los Angeles. “And believe me, man, there’s a lot going on in the bars back there. It’s great. It’s absolutely great.”
At Cusat’s, they prepared to watch Game 4 with a mixture of trepidation and optimism. The Cubs hadn’t scored in two games and trailed by a game in the series. Joe’s mother, Beanie, grows so nervous she watches the games by herself. Before the end of Game 3, dejected at the Cubs’ deficit, she switched the channel to “Shark Tank.” Still, his friends back in Hazleton all trusted Maddon would figure something out, and the Cubs would win.
A few minutes before first pitch, Maddon’s face flashed on the screen.
“There’s Joe!” Kaschak shouted.
The deep roots of a town-spanning family tree
Hours earlier, Wednesday afternoon, Carmine Parlatore, Maddon’s sister, minded the register at The Shop 2, the antique store she opened on Broad Street. To one customer, she gave away a figurine of a pig with wings on its back. “I’m doing what I can to be a good girl today,” she said. “So the gods look down and say, ‘Karma!’ I know it’s sick, but hey.”
Carmine had pigs to spare, having collected them for years as a meaningful and familial inside joke. When Maddon managed the Tampa Bay Rays, she read a story suggesting the Rays would make the World Series when pigs fly. Carmine, a nurse for 20 years, viewed her own dream — owning an antique shop in Hazleton — as equally improbable. The Rays reached the World Series in 2009, and Carmine has opened a second The Shop 2 in Hazleton. Mark, their other sibling, has moved to Florida.
“Pigs are flying for the three of us in different ways,” Carmine said.
Outside The Shop 2, a W flag flew and a placard read, “Go Cubs Go … Hey Hazleton, What do you say?” Inside, a Cubs pennant hovered above a signed Maddon Cubs jersey and a framed panorama of Wrigley Field. On the wall behind the register hung faded black and white pictures of Joe Maddon Sr. and his brothers, a glimpse of the family’s history.
Carmen Maddonini immigrated from Italy in the early 1900s and settled, like a lot of Europeans seeking work, in Hazleton. He dropped the last three letters in his surname so he could pass for Irish, which made it easier to land a job in the mines. The evidence of his real last name exists in his naturalization papers. They show he became a U.S. citizen in 1921, at age 28. He made it out of the mines, and in 1936 he started C. Maddon & Sons Plumbing.
His son Joe — one of 11 children — took over the business and had three children of his own, Joe Jr., Carmine and Mark. The trio had more than 20 aunts and uncles and too many cousins to count. The Maddons all lived in the room above the plumbing storefront or in nearby apartment buildings, on 11th Street between Wyoming and Carson. Family bustled everywhere, hardly any difference in cousins, second cousins and siblings.
“I get lost,” said Jason Maddon, one of Joe’s second cousins. “I need a pen and paper to figure it out, and I’m a Maddon.”
Jason Maddon lives next door to Beanie, who still lives above the plumbing storefront, which is now a second The Shop 2.
Across the corner was 3rd Base Luncheonette, owned by one of Maddon’s uncles. Beanie worked there for decades before she retired last year, at 83. One of Maddon’s cousins, Dave Mishinki, still owns the place. Wednesday at lunch time, patrons may have grumbled, over cold cut hoagies and Farmer’s iced tea, about Jason Heyward’s cold bat.
Saving a special place
So much of Hazleton has stayed the same, but so much has changed. As mining jobs decreased, cheap manufacturing increased. In 2000, of Hazleton’s population of roughly 25,000, 95 percent were white. By 2010, nearly 40 percent of the population was Latino or Hispanic. In 2006, Hazleton’s then-mayor, Lou Barletta, passed a controversial ordinance — later overruled in courts — preventing businesses from employing illegal immigrants and landlords from renting to them. It was so popular Barletta ran for Congress in 2010 and won.
In 2011, Joe Maddon returned home for the holidays. During meals and drinks out, he heard the same theme: Hazleton citizens blamed the town’s problems — a rise in drug use and gang activity — on newly arriving Hispanics. It didn’t make sense to Maddon, who had made a career of forming bonds between people from different backgrounds.
“The stuff he was hearing, he did not like,” said Bob Curry, the husband of Maddon’s cousin Elaine. “Here’s a guy who left at 19 years old, and the city was 100 percent Caucasian. Now he’s coming back every year, and for whatever reason, they were really trashing the new immigrant population. Joe spent his life in baseball. As a manager, how do you put that together? When people are blaming every Dominican, every Puerto Rican, every Mexican for their city’s problems?”
Curry pointed out to Maddon that white and Hispanic communities rarely mixed, and Maddon realized he had not bothered to meet Latinos in Hazleton. He asked the Currys, who had befriended many Hispanic families through Elaine’s advocacy work, to bring him along to a holiday party.
Families gathered around a 20-foot table, full of food and wine. Kids scurried. People had to scream to hear one another. Hadn’t Carmen Maddonini been a newcomer here once, afraid his heritage would affect his livelihood? Hadn’t he grown up in a town that felt like a family?
“What’s the problem?” Maddon asked Elaine. “This is exactly how we grew up.”
Maddon enlisted Bob and Elaine Curry to help bridge the communities, starting at the youth level. Together, they founded the Hazleton Integration Project. By 2013, the Currys had opened the Hazleton One Community Center, inside the old Most Precious Blood School on 4th Street.
They encountered initial pushback. A local newspaper would cover an event, “and you would get like 60 horrible comments,” Curry said. “‘We’re enabling this new group. It’s another giveaway. Why don’t we stay out of the city.’ Just on and on and on.”
But the Currys poured themselves into H.I.P., and Maddon lent his capital in the community and in baseball. He returned every holiday season for Thanksmas, the organization’s largest event. He brought Yogi Berra, Cal Ripken, Tommy Lasorda and others to Hazleton for fundraisers. On a wall in the center’s office, Maddon signed his name under the handwritten quote, “You never know when you’re making a memory.”
“We can’t do what we do without Joe Maddon,” Curry said. “We can’t. And I want to make that as clear as possible. We just never could have gotten it started.”
In a short span, H.I.P. has taken off. Every day after school, children eat, learn and play in bilingual classrooms. They put on plays, and Curry has realized nobody cares about ethnicity when two parents are watching their children act together on a stage. The project has a partnership with Penn State. Several kids have used their experience to get into STEM high schools.
“Joe loved growing up here,” Elaine Curry said. “He talks about it all the time. This to him was a special place. When he came back, he felt it wasn’t as special anymore, that people were blaming newcomers for it not being special. He wants all children to have that special [place]. And this place represents what he thinks of his community, and what he wants.”
Praying pigs take wing once more
For Game 4, most of the shot-and-a-beer bars emptied out before the last pitch. There were jobs to get to Thursday morning and a debate to watch. But the nerves were there at the start. An Addison Russell deep fly ball died at the warning track, and the crowd at Cusat’s groaned.
“Come on, Joe,” Kaschak said. “Figure it out.”
The Cubs eventually thumped the Dodgers, 10-2. For one night, Beanie and Carmine could relax and rest easy. And anyway, Maddon and his town had faced longer odds than being down a game in a playoff series.
On the morning of Game 3, Carmine walked with Beanie to the Hazleton cemetery to visit her father’s grave, which she and Beanie marked last year with a Cubs sticker. She likes to speak with her father often, and does so before her brother’s important games to calm her nerves and for good vibes — more karma. In front of the grave rests the charm Carmine had placed there: a pig with wings.
Barry Svrluga contributed from Los Angeles.