CHICAGO -- After finishing a day filled with meetings with his new-look coaching staff, Cubs manager Joe Maddon donned a white apron and headed to St. Leonard's Ministries on Chicago's west side on Thursday night. It was time to put baseball off to the side for a few hours."It's great
CHICAGO -- After finishing a day filled with meetings with his new-look coaching staff, Cubs manager Joe Maddon donned a white apron and headed to St. Leonard's Ministries on Chicago's west side on Thursday night. It was time to put baseball off to the side for a few hours.
"It's great that we're here to help," Maddon said. "It's near and dear to the heart."
This was the third stop in Maddon's "Thanksmas" project as part of his Respect 90 foundation, which had earlier offseason events in the Tampa Bay area and in his hometown of Hazleton, Pa. On this evening, more than 125 members of Chicago's homeless community were served a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, plus pierogies, with Maddon leading the way.
It was also the third initiative on a busy Thursday for the team on the eve of its annual Cubs Convention, which kicks off at 6 p.m. CT Friday at the Sheraton Grand downtown.
Prior to the meal, cooked and served by Maddon -- he says he learned his way around a kitchen from his mom, grandmother and aunts -- Cubs players, coaches and staffers held a service day at Horner Park. The team worked with the non-profit group Good Sports to provide sports equipment, apparel and footwear to 110 Chicago schools to aid their physical education programs. Next on the day's schedule was an equipment delivery to Patrick Henry Elementary School.
"At the end of the day," Maddon reminded, "it's about the volunteers that show up here every day."
The Cubs manager could not entirely escape baseball, though -- not with this being the last season under his five-year contract and with the team in the middle of a quiet offseason. Before Maddon served food, he held court and dished out some quotes to the media on a variety of topics. Once again, the central theme of Maddon's comments -- echoing the message from the front office this winter -- was that the bulk of improvement will need to come from within in the season ahead.
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That did not stop Maddon from being asked once again about whether the Cubs might yet make a play for superstar free agent Bryce Harper. In another charity event earlier this week, Maddon said it was "not going to happen." The manager doubled down in Thursday's interview.
"Like I said, I don't think that's going to happen," Maddon said. "We really feel strongly and believe strongly in the guys that we do have. I think we're trying to get -- not resolve -- but we're just really trying to develop that plan to really extrapolate more out of the group that we do have. And, again, when I say that, if you really look at it, it's primarily from the offensive side of the ball."
Maddon brushed off a question about his unsettled contract situation beyond 2019.
"We're all lame ducks, aren't we?" he quipped. "I'm just focused on winning right now."
Maddon also addressed the Cubs' support of shortstop Addison Russell, who will be ineligible to play until May 3 while finishing out a suspension for violating MLB's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. Russell's progress behind the scenes is being closely monitored by the Cubs, and Maddon stopped short of saying there was a job waiting for the shortstop.
"There's a lot of ifs involved in this," Maddon said. "One of the big ifs is just that Addison does the right things to get back here in the first place. If he does that, and everybody's satisfied with that progress -- him and us -- then you give him the opportunity to become the shortstop again. But right now, our focus primarily is on him becoming the best human being he can possibly become."
Following the chat with reporters, Maddon headed to the third floor at the Michael Barlow Center and gave a brief pre-dinner speech. He explained that the event is called "Thanksmas" because there is a need to help others every day -- not just on holidays. And he got the function started by filling the room with laughter.
"Any non-Cubs fans here?" Maddon asked with a smirk. "We have a special meal for you."
Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.