In the hour before addressing the dozens of BlueClaws and Phillies fans who await him in the Woodlake Country Club clubhouse ballroom, Manuel appears at ease as he makes his way around the room to chat with new BlueClaws manager Mickey Morandini and Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. Yet as he awaits for dinner to begin, below the surface of his comfortable demeanor is his inner-ballplayer eager to ditch his jet black suit and don the Phillies windbreaker he last wore as the Cardinals eliminated Philadelphia in the 2011 NLDS.
"We had a great season last year that ended in a tough way," Manuel said. "It was special and then all of a sudden it seemed like we were out."
For a team that set the franchise record with 102 wins a year ago, Manuel is not satisfied with simply making the post-season. He is looking to rebound from last year's NLDS exit with a second World Series trophy to match the hardware the Phillies collected in 2008.
"Our goal every year ever since we won was to get back to the World Series and win it," Manuel said. "I was talking to Halladay and a few of our players and we still feel like we're ready to go [in Spring Training] and get started."
One of the players that Manuel has been in touch with this season was projected Opening Day starting first baseman Jim Thome. Thome, who spent a number of minor league seasons and the first few seasons of his major league career playing for Manuel, should get a bulk of the playing time at the beginning of the season as all-star 1B Ryan Howard recovers from a torn Achilles tendon.
"I've been around Jimmy [Thome] for about the first 15 years of his career," Manuel said. "When I look at him-for him to hit 600 home runs- I remember I'd sit around and talk to [Cleveland Indians General Manager] John Hart and [Assistant General Manager] Danny O'Dowd about what he's going to do and I'd say that he was going to hit close to 500 home runs. Everything about his career has been great and as good of a player he is, he might be a better person. Thome is a guy who can walk through our clubhouse and have a positive impact."
As Uncle Charley- as he's affectionately known around circles of Philadelphia fans- prepares for his 49th season in professional baseball he is able to take time to look back on his career that began with a $30,000 signing bonus out of high school as a Minnesota Twins draft pick in 1963. It's a career that has taken him from the minor leagues to the major leagues and finally Japan as a pinch-hitting outfielder, and back to the minor leagues as he worked his way back to the big leagues as a manager.
"I look back and it's going by too quick- it has all gone by too fast," Manuel said. "Time just seems like it flies by especially when you get a little age on you. I've been in the game all my life, and I've been very fortunate with the talent I was able to work with and very fortunate to just get back to the big leagues as a manager."