One of the most successful and beloved managers in Philadelphia Phillies history has a lofty goal in mind — to be back in Clearwater, Florida, when Spring Training starts next month.
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Charlie Manuel is hoping he'll be able to attend Spring Training as a senior advisor when players start to report in February.
A few days after the stroke and removal of a blood clot, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com provided an update that Manuel was listening to audio recordings from some of his former players, including Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Brad Lidge, and watching Phillies games as he was recovering.
Manuel, who recently turned 80 years old, led the Phillies to their second World Series title in 2008.
He led the ballclub from 2005 to 2013, posting a 780-636 regular-season record and 27-19 postseason record over those nine years. Those 780 wins are the most for any manager in Phillies history, and his 41 ejections are also tops in Phillies history. Under Manuel, the Phillies made five straight trips to the postseason from 2007 through 2011, taking the National League East crown each year. The team’s 102-win season in 2011 broke the record for most wins during a season in franchise history.
Charlie Manuel is beloved in Philadelphia
Beyond the numbers, though, Manuel quickly became a fan favorite in the city, with people gravitating toward his easy-going, positive manner and his love of offense.
Zolecki, in September, relayed quotes from current manager Rob Thomson about how important Manuel's presence is at spring training: "He's great to have around. He's just got that wholesome outlook on life. All that baseball knowledge. When him and [Larry] Bowa get together in spring training, I mean, it's a comedy show. ... All of our guys, everybody in the organization loves him."
Thomson went on to talk about his impact on the team's offensive players, saying: "He sits next to the cage all day long [in spring training] and just watches guys hit, talks to them. A very simple approach."
In early January, Matt Gelb of The Athletic did a deep dive into Manuel's recovery. The stroke affected the section of his brain that controls language, and he was diagnosed with expressive aphasia and dysarthria. Early in his recovery, Gelb noted how Manuel — who "exists to talk hitting" — struggled to form complete sentences and how self-conscious of his speech he was after the stroke, something he has gained more confidence with as time has gone on.
Manuel, who found it helpful to talk baseball with his therapist to work on his speech after the stroke, made it clear his role as senior advisor is important to him, as is attending Spring Training.
“I have to be talking better by spring training,” he told Gelb. "Yeah, I want to come. If the Phillies want me to come to spring training, I'll come to spring training… [But] because I want to come doesn't mean I can. I'll do what I am supposed to do."
Later, he added: "I'll put it to you like this: I'm going to always be in baseball."
Fans in Philadelphia fell in love with Manuel's mannerisms and personality during his years in the dugout, and he quickly became a beloved figure in the city and the clubhouse, during his managerial days and even now.
Following news of his stroke in September, current players spoke about how important he is to the team.
Destiny Lugardo of Phillies Nation relayed comments from power-hitter Kyle Schwarber: "You look forward to going in the cage everyday in spring training and see him sit there, and you know you're going to get a good story. ... He's always a positive guy who is looking to tell us how it is."
Assuming he's able to keep making positive progress in his recovery, and barring any other health setbacks, it's hard to imagine the Philadelphia Phillies organization not inviting Manuel back to Spring Training this season.
His spot next to the batting cage will be waiting for him when the pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater for their first workout on Feb. 14. The team's first spring training game will be Feb. 24 against the Toronto Blue Jays, and players and fans alike will be hoping Manuel is able to return in time for the action.