CHICAGO (AP) Joe Maddon's unusual road to the manager's office at Wrigley Field included a job interview at an RV park in Pensacola, Florida. The first public stop was a bar across the street from the iconic ballpark, where Maddon offered to buy a beer and a shot for everyone in the room.
''The Hazleton way,'' he said in tribute to his Pennsylvania hometown.
If the beginning of Maddon's partnership with the Cubs is any indication, this is going to be one interesting ride.
Maddon brought his unconventional style to Chicago on Monday when he was introduced as the Cubs' fifth manager since the start of the 2010 season, replacing Rick Renteria after just one year on the job. Flanked by smiling executives Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein, he slipped on a pinstriped No. 70 jersey and repeatedly said how he excited he was about his new job.
Perhaps more importantly, at least for a century's worth of frustrated Cubs fans, he talked about winning - right now.
''Listen, for me, I'm going to be talking playoffs next year. OK, I'm going to tell you that right now,'' said Maddon, who got a $25 million, five-year contract - making him one of the highest paid managers in the game, ''because I can't go to spring training and say another thing. I'm just incapable of doing that. Why would you even report?''
The 60-year-old Maddon had a 754-705 record in nine seasons in Tampa Bay, leading the club to four playoff appearances, two AL East titles and a five-game loss to Philadelphia in the 2008 World Series. The two-time AL Manager of the Year also was the bench coach for six seasons under Angels manager Mike Scioscia before he was hired by Tampa Bay in November 2005.
The Rays went 77-85 this year, and Maddon opted out of his contract after Andrew Friedman left Tampa Bay's front office to take over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Oct. 14. The Cubs already had a manager in Renteria, but Epstein felt he had to act on Maddon's free agency.
''You wrestle with those things. As a person, I didn't want to do it,'' said Epstein, who also interviewed Maddon for the manager job with the Red Sox before he hired Terry Francona ahead of the 2004 season. ''I don't want to ever be unfair to someone else. But as an executive and as someone charged with winning a World Series here, I had no choice but to do it. It was clearly the right move for the Cubs.''
After Epstein confirmed with Major League Baseball that Maddon had opted out of his contract, Hoyer informed Renteria about what was going on. Then Epstein and Hoyer flew to Florida to meet with Maddon, who was traveling cross country with his wife, Jaye.
''We kind of sat behind the Cousin Eddie. That's our RV, the Cousin Eddie, a 43-foot Winnebago,'' Maddon said, ''and we sat back there and pretty much just talked philosophy about how this is all going to work. For me, that was the most important thing. That's what I needed to know, that we were philosophically aligned.''
Chicago finished 73-89 in Renteria's only season as a major league manager. The move puts the rest of Renteria's staff in jeopardy, but pitching coach Chris Bosio attended Maddon's introductory press conference and Epstein made it sound as if he thinks most of the coaches will be retained.
Maddon inherits an impressive group of prospects and a bigger payroll after his successful run with the small-market Rays. But he also gets a run of five consecutive losing seasons and a famous title drought that goes back to the Cubs' win in the 1908 World Series.
Chicago hasn't made it to the playoffs since it won the NL Central in 2008 with Lou Piniella in the dugout. Epstein was hired after the Cubs went 71-91 in 2011, beginning a rebuilding process that included 101 losses in his first year in charge.
But Epstein thinks the Cubs are ready to contend right now, especially after the bold move to put Maddon in the dugout. First baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro each made the All-Star team this year, and young sluggers Javier Baez and Jorge Soler had some positive moments in their first major league action.
''We believe that we're transitioning away from a three-year period where we were essentially only accumulating young talent, and now we're competing,'' Epstein said.
Maddon's most pressing task is building on the development of Chicago's core group of young players, while paving the way for another wave of prospects that includes third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Addison Russell.
''Why would you not want to accept this challenge in this city in that ballpark under these circumstances with this talent?'' Maddon said. ''It's an extraordinary moment.''
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap