PORT CHARLOTTE — Friday was for setting goals. Big goals. Short-term and long-term; serious and not-so-serious.
The Tampa Bay Rays are working toward winning the World Series this season. Rays manager Joe Maddon put that out there Friday during his high-noon news conference with executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
Here is another goal: Maddon will spend all six weeks of spring training living at a nearby motor home park in his 40-foot Phaeton, which he calls “Cousin Eddie,” a nod to the Randy Quaid character in National Lampoon’s “Vacation” films.
Maddon drove “Cousin Eddie” to Charlotte Sports Park on Friday morning and parked it next to Field 4, a few steps from where he and Friedman spoke about the 2014 season, which begins today when pitchers and catchers participate in the first workout of the spring.
“Of course your goal is to always win the World Series, to play the last game of the year and win, to eat last,” Maddon said. “I want us to eat last this year.”
That phrase comes from Simon Sinek’s book, “Leaders Eat Last — Why Some Teams Pull it Together and Others Don’t.” Rays third baseman Evan Longoria read the book this offseason. Maddon is reading it now.
“And it makes sense,” Maddon said. “Leaders do eat last, so in regards to that I’d like for us to be the leaders in eating last this year. That’d be kind of cool to really enjoy that last supper at the end of the season, get together and enjoy that particular moment, it’s definitely within our abilities. There’s no dodging it. There’s no hiding from it. There’s no, ‘I don’t want to talk about that. It’s going to jinx us.’ My god, if you believe in jinxes don’t even do this. So that’s our goal, man.”
The Rays return the nucleus of a 92-win team that beat Cleveland in the AL wild card and lost in four games to Boston in the AL Division Series.
Left-hander David Price is back after signing a $14 million contract in January. First baseman James Loney is back after signing a three-year, $21 million contract just after New Year’s. Closer Grant Balfour was added in late January on a two-year, $12 million deal.
It was a pricey offseason for Friedman, whose payroll will exceed $80 million, making this the most expensive team in franchise history.
“The team that we have on paper, right now, is pretty darn good,” Price said.
You might say the Rays are fully loaded. Strong starting pitching and infield defense, a bullpen that has all the ingredients to be stingy, an offense that should be capable of scoring enough runs to make it all work.
You can say without reservation that “Cousin Eddie” is fully loaded.
Maddon’s motor home comes with four TVs, a kitchen, 11⁄2 bathrooms, a dishwasher, a washer and dryer, a king-sized bed and two fold-out beds. It has four slide-out compartments.
“Plenty of room for storage underneath, which we like to refer to as a basement in the RV world,” Maddon said.
It’s powered by a 390-horsepower diesel engine that eats gas.
“If you’re looking for that 10- or 15-mile-per-gallon thing, it ain’t going to happen,” Maddon said. “I’d say 8 or 9, maybe.”
Maddon caught the RV bug last season when he and his wife Jaye bought a 30-foot motor home so Jaye could transport the couple’s dogs from their home in California to their home in Tampa.
The two spent the 2013 All-Star break at an RV park on the east coast of Florida. That’s when Maddon decided he wanted a motor home similar to the 40-footer owned by Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire.
“It all started with her trip. OK, we’re going to buy one,” Maddon said. “I kind of dig it. Now we got the 40-footer.”
Like his goal of winning the World Series title, Maddon’s goal of calling “Cousin Eddie” home during spring training has met some opposition.
Rays video coordinator Chris “Chico” Fernandez said he gives Maddon three weeks before Maddon moves to a hotel.
“It’s extremely comfortable, regardless of what Chico says. He’s really down on me being able to survive in the RV for a month and a half. That’s ridiculous,” Maddon said, noting that he and Jaye spent a good chunk of the offseason living in their motor home during trips to Key West, Hazleton, Pa., and Virginia Beach.
It just takes a strong belief, Maddon said. Much like his team’s belief that they can “eat last.”
“You have to believe that from the first day,” Maddon said. “It’s not just hyperbole. It’s not just talk. It’s not just rhetoric. It’s not any of that stuff. It’s believable. And if you believe it, you can do it. If you don’t believe it, you can never do it.”