Their tribute began with a stroke of inspiration. At first, the idea seemed more light-hearted than serious. Name their son “Maddon,” after Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon?
Why not? Why wait?
The conversation happened last year, before the birth of John and Heather Warwick’s first child. The New Port Richey, Fla., couple — both big Rays fans — had brainstormed baby names and selected a girl’s option, Kylee. But they sought help finding one for a boy, so they downloaded an app to narrow their choices.
One day, they scrolled through a list and joked about some possibilities. (Maximus?) Before long, Heather’s eyes scanned the name, “Madden.” Right away, she considered swapping the “e” for an “o,” with her favorite manager in mind.
“We should totally do that!” Heather recalls saying.
The more John and Heather considered it, the more “Maddon” fit. The couple, married March 1, 2008, had grown to love the Rays together.
John, a cruise travel agent, was raised a Balitmore Orioles fan in Highland, Md., before moving to Florida at age 14. After about five years, he transitioned to following the Rays.
Heather, a manager of a retail store, was raised a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan in Dunedin, Fla. In recent years, though, she lost interest.
John enjoys all sports, but early in the couple’s married life together, Heather had to be sold on baseball. She considered it too slow, boring. As a girl, she remembered attending minor league games in Dunedin that seemed to last five hours. She was skeptical.
Slowly, though, change happened. John and Heather married the year Tampa Bay won 97 regular-season games and advanced to the World Series for the first time. That summer, as the drama increased, so did John’s pleas to Heather to give the game a chance.
“She didn’t know a thing about baseball,” says John, 32. “But they were so exciting that it was difficult for her not to get excited.”
With time, Heather watched. She learned nuances. John taught his wife about the team, Rays players and Tampa Bay’s rivalries. Throughout the playoffs and World Series, she became hooked.
She also asked questions.
“Oh, this guy is really fast,” John recalls her saying to him. “What’s his name?”
“Oh,” John answered, “that’s (Carl) Crawford.”
“Oh, this guy is cute,” Heather said then. “Who’s he?”
“Oh, that’s (Evan) Longoria.”
And of course, Heather began to respect Maddon.
“I really like Joe as a coach,” says Heather, 28. “He cares about his players and will fight. I love when he goes out and argues with an umpire and gets thrown out. I love that, because he’s defending his players.”
Others received the couple’s “Maddon” idea well. In the past two years, Heather says she has become a bigger fan than John. (John says that claim is debatable.) Their friends thought “Maddon” was fitting for a shared passion that brought both closer together.
On Nov. 26, 2012, Maddon was born in Safety Harbor, Fla., weighing 6 pounds, 3 ounces. He has bright blue eyes. His parents are proud.
“He’s actually very calm like Joe,” John says.
“Everyone says he’s the perfect baby,” Heather says.
Maddon attended his first baseball game with his parents April 22, when Tampa Bay played the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. They were special guests, because John and Heather shared their story with the Rays, and the family became part of the club’s “Welcome Home” ad campaign this season. They are featured in online promos and other media spots for the team.
That day at Tropicana Field, Maddon met Maddon, the manager, and Rays players such as Matt Joyce, Luke Scott and James Loney. Before the game, Joe held Maddon and complimented John and Heather on their son’s appearance and behavior. Eventually, Joe autographed a baseball with a message that reads, “See you next year.”
“He’s holding my kid!” Heather thought then.
The family sat behind home plate and watched the Rays win 5-1. Throughout the night Maddon, positioned on his father’s lap, gazed toward the field. There were moments when John considered the power of a parent’s love. He had waited for this.
“I’ve always been excited about being a father,” John says. “I’ve always been excited about playing catch with my son and teaching him sports and taking him to games. My dad took me to a lot of games, too, and they’re some of my best childhood memories.
“I always thought, ‘When I have a son, I cannot wait to take him to games and just sit there and watch him look out at these guys like they’re mythical creatures, like I did.’ They were just heroes. They were bigger than life. I’m excited for him to get to that age where he starts recognizing them.”
When Maddon does, he will have received a fine introduction. On a recent Wednesday, he arrived at an Oldsmar, Fla., restaurant with a pacifier resembling a baseball, wearing socks with a baseball design and a light blue T-shirt that read, “I MIGHT BE LITTLE BUT I’M A HUGE RAYS FAN.”
“They’re enjoying it,” Heather says of her favorite team, “like it should be enjoyed.”
Now, she and John have a life to enjoy with a Maddon of their own.