NEW YORK -- Rays manager Joe Maddon introduced his Hazleton Integration Project (HIP) on Monday morning, which he created in the hope that it will help develop and maintain an atmosphere in his hometown of Hazleton, Pa., that will serve to unify the varied cultures of that community, and thus keep the area vibrant and relevant.
"A big part of it is to create dialogue and get the Hispanic community and the Anglo community pointed in the same direction," Maddon said. "When I went home last Christmas, it was very obvious that's not happening."
Maddon noted that during that trip home, he visited an Hispanic day care center on a Sunday afternoon after church and saw adults sitting around a kids table, eating potluck lunch, and their kids were "running around having a blast."
"And I thought to myself, 'That's what my family looked like back in the day,'" Maddon said. "That's what I remember of Sunday back in the '50s and '60s, my earliest memories, and it really struck me that we are missing the point. If we don't utilize this group of Hispanic people who want to be in our community, if we don't utilize them and their abilities to the fullest, our town is going to eventually die and go away.
"These people want to be there. They're wonderful people, and they're just exactly like we were back in the day -- down to the point that they don't speak very good English yet, some of them. Neither did my grandpa and grandma on both sides -- Polish and Italian."
The project's mission is to provide a suitable location within the city conducive to creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged children to participate in a variety of no-cost or low-cost educational, cultural and athletic activities.
"We are a country of different cultures that have grown into one," Maddon said. "What is the difference between now and when our forefathers came to this country centuries ago? Their proficiency with the English language was no better than that of today's young Hispanics trying to assimilate. Those immigrants were our grandfathers and great grandfathers."
The partners in the project include the Ripken Baseball Foundation and a newly formed Board of Directors for the Hazleton Immigration Project.
"I want to thank those who have partnered with us and share our vision," said Maddon. "Our efforts this December are only a start. There is much that needs to be done by all of us who call Hazleton home."
The project includes a four-day series awareness and fundraising programs:
Dec. 15: News conference (Time and place TBD)
Dec. 16: Fundraising dinner of Italian, Polish and Dominican food to be held at Lobitz Catering (1090 State Route 940, Hazle Township, PA 18202). This event will feature "celebrity waiters" and an auction of rare and priceless memorabilia from the world of sports. Tickets are $50 for adults and $20 for kids 12 and under and will be available soon at the following locations: Third Base Dugout, The Shop2, The Dragon Fly Cafe;, Niurka's Second Base Restaurant and Groceries Plus.
Dec. 17: A free Movie Night at The Alice C. Wiltsi Performing Arts Center. The movie "It's a Wonderful Life" will be shown free with Spanish subtitles. Ticket information for this event will be announced at a later date.
Dec. 18: Maddon and volunteers will serve his traditional Thanksmas meal at the Hazleton area Salvation Army Shelter on Broad Street, which serves a diverse group of citizens.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.