MLB.com: A year after starting your first season as manager of the Rays, can you share your perspective on the team?
Maddon: The team itself, I think we're a much tighter group than we were last year at the same time. I think the players are really understanding what we're trying to get done. Last year I threw a lot of stuff out at them. I think by the end of last season, they began to start getting it. In this camp I think it's truly moved forward in that regard. I've talked about relationship building. I've talked about trust factors, all those things. So that's the primary difference for me. Right now, we're taking the stuff we talked about and we're incorporating into the games. The true test will see how it goes Opening Day.
MLB.com: How have things changed for you personally after a year as manager?
Maddon: It's about being more comfortable with each other. I can have conversations now with players, or coaches, or whomever, you get to that point and it's more comfortable. Where you can have an actual conversation and people aren't worried about what the other person is thinking. I think I'm getting more honesty out of the whole thing. And I really like it from that perspective. And then just for me personally, living in the [Tampa Bay] area. Getting to know the area. All that stuff matters. The discovery phase is over, I'm into the 'I belong phase' and I like it. And I know I want to stay here.
MLB.com: What does this team have to do to win this year?
Maddon: We have to be fundamentally sound in the field. We have to be unified in the clubhouse. We have to support one another and not be concerned about what's being said about us peripherally. So primarily, I would say fundamentally on the field and unity in the clubhouse.
MLB.com: Last year you had a terrible time winning on the road. What, if anything, have you come to realize about why that happened and what do you intend to do differently this season to try and bridge the gap on the road?
Maddon: Nothing new except I keep talking about more wins at home. I think if we become an even better home team it will spill over to the road. And again, I think that speaks to the unity factor, guys just hanging together more. We went through so many different teams last year that by the end of the season it just got to be very difficult. I think we'll be able to keep this group intact from day one. And I think that will lead to a better road record.
MLB.com: How do you feel about competing in the American League East?
Maddon: Still love it. Want to stay here. Don't want to be in another division. For us to be the best, we have to beat the best. We have to know what it takes to beat these people first for us to beat the rest of the people in baseball.
MLB.com: How do you view the future of the organization?
Maddon: I see a steady gradual improvement. I don't think you'll see anything dramatic in regard to a quick jump. I think you'll see casual steps or non-dramatic steps. It's going to happen at our pace. It's got to be that way. We have to be patient with it. We've got to stay with our plan. If we have to make adaptations, we'll do that. But, plan it out, stay with it, see it grow, and understand that it's going to take a little time.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.