Joe Maddon urges Latinos to heed coronavirus limits through MLB friends

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Angels manager Joe Maddon enlisted first baseman Albert Pujols and other Latino baseball figures to help stem the tide of the novel coronavirus outbreak in Hazleton, Pa. Pujols, Carlos Peña and Tino Martinez recorded video public service announcements in Spanish and English targeting Hazleton's large Hispanic population.

Maddon’s hometown is one of Pennsylvania’s epicenters for the coronavirus. Figures released Wednesday indicated 1,000 people in town had tested positive for it. Luzerne County, which includes Hazleton, had announced 1,134.

Earlier this month, Lehigh Valley Hospital-Hazleton president John Fletcher said social distancing in the city was only at about 18% and needed to increase to about 70% for the hospital not to become overwhelmed with coronavirus patients, according to The Morning Call.

The rates are especially alarming in a city of approximately 25,000, the majority of whom speak Spanish. Communicating safeguards and conveying the seriousness of the pandemic to Hispanic residents had proven tricky.

“It seems like that message wasn’t getting in or resonating in the community,” said Lou Barletta, a former mayor of Hazleton and a childhood friend of Maddon.

“… I thought, ‘This is a crisis that is really gonna kill people.’ ”

Conrad Falvello, a lawyer and another of Maddon’s hometown friends, asked Barletta if he thought Maddon would be interested in assembling a campaign to reach residents of limited English proficiency.

Despite beginning his professional baseball career decades ago, Maddon, 66, has maintained deep roots in his hometown. His influence grew in the last decade with the founding of the Hazleton Integration Project (HIP), a community center that unites people of different cultures through educational endeavors and arts and sports programs for youths. Maddon and his wife, Jaye, worked with other Maddon family members to establish HIP when they noticed friction between the new immigrant population and Hazleton’s longtime residents.

Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols, left, speaks with new manager Joe Maddon after a baseball news conference at Angel Stadium
Angels manager Joe Maddon, right, enlisted Albert Pujols and others to help fight the novel coronavirus in Hazelton, Penn. (Greg Beachum / Associated Press)

Barletta approached Maddon with the request April 4 and received PSAs the next day. Pujols eagerly agreed to the project. So did Peña and Martinez, former players who have helped with Maddon’s charitable efforts in the past.

Maddon recorded his video outside the luxury recreational vehicle where he has lived since the onset of the outbreak, which caused MLB to cancel spring training and postpone the beginning of the season. He has not left the RV park in Tempe, Ariz., except for essential business and to see his daughter and grandchildren, who live nearby, during the Easter holiday.

Maddon’s weeks have been busy, his schedule filled by conference calls with Angels employees, video chats with college classes and media interviews. He has taken advantage of small gaps in his agenda to enhance his social media presence, create question-and-answer segments for the Angels’ YouTube account and re-learn video production tricks on his new Apple laptop.

Even with a full slate, Maddon, who still owns a home near Hazleton, needed little convincing to help out a community in crisis.

“This is one of those things when people ask you right now, you don’t take your time,” Maddon said. “You see when you’re able to reverse course with this virus, how impactful it can be, so you don’t wait.

“We needed to have folks understand this is no joke. … I don't think it was really well defined in the beginning why. It's not necessarily that you're gonna die. It's just the fact that somebody else may by being cavalier in how we go about our business.”

The recordings have been disseminated throughout the Hazleton area on television and radio. Pennsylvania’s Department of Health requested permission to expand usage of the videos across the state.

It is too soon to tell if the messages have made an impact on the target audience. A new hospital survey has not been conducted. But Maddon and his friends are hopeful.

“It will not only help Hazleton,” Barletta said. “I’m sure it could help other areas that may have the same problem with language.”

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