Hazleton – Curiously Long Posts, Sports Illustrated
After spending all fall in State College working on a book at Joe Paterno and what he meant to the Penn State community at large (impeccable timing!) Sports Illustrated columnist Joe Posnanski traveled east along Interstate 80 for a little while to see Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon’s hometown of Hazleton.
My first two years of college were at Penn State Hazleton and I lived in the borough of West Hazleton which is right next to the city of Hazleton. As I have mentioned before, it was an interesting experience. For one thing, growing up in sprawling Northern Virginia, the idea of firmly entrenched white/ethnic neighborhoods and the rivalries between them was eye-opening. I predicted that those rivalries would probably fade as Hispanics moved in; I can’t speak about the former, but the latter has drawn national attention for several years. Maddon is working with family who still live there to build a community center and wants “kids growing up in Hazleton now to look back someday and remember only good things from their childhood.”
And the people around him also nod in agreement when he says that Hazleton isn’t like that anymore. There are cracks in the sidewalk, closed storefronts and blankness where downtown once lit up. Maddon says that even the traffic lights have dimmed.
More: There’s distrust. Many people seem to know why. The Hispanic population has grown dramatically in Hazleton over the last decade or so. According to census numbers, there were about 250 people who identified themselves as Hispanic in 1990, barely over 1,000 in 2000. Now, there are almost 10,000 Latinos living in Hazleton. They have come for jobs, for more affordable housing, for the small town charms that not so long ago brought in the Maddonnis and Scarcellas and Barlettas and Palahniuks.
I wish Maddon and Hazleton luck, even though I have been hard on it over the years. The disparate groups need to realize that they all want to be there and build off that because for 50-60 years, people have been fleeing for better opportunities.