Charlie Manuel is back, healthy and fired-up for a hittin' season

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Charlie Manuel put on his red Phillies gear earlier this week and ambled out to the batting cage.

He saw hitters taking their hacks.

He heard the crack of the bat.

He was in his happy place.

"It was absolutely great," Manuel said from Clearwater on Friday afternoon. "The first time I saw batting practice the other day, I flipped out. I was so happy. I didn't say anything. I just stood there and watched all of it.

"I watched every game on TV last year. I don't think I missed a pitch. But there's nothing like going to the ballpark and going in the clubhouse and going on the field, communicating with the players and BS, or whatever, and chat and hit 'em, and whatever, and tell 'em how good they are. I missed it. I definitely missed it."

Manuel began his career in pro ball as a teenager in the Minnesota Twins organization in the summer of 1963. The next year, he attended his first spring training. He's been in spring training every year since then, except 2014 when he decided to lay low while transitioning from his time as Phillies manager to a front office advisory role, and last year, when he was recovering from a life-threatening infection that he developed after surgery in December 2019.

Manuel, 77, is healthy now and back in spring training as a guest instructor, looking for base hits, as he likes to say.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CLxUsJIDhA0

"I like this team," he said. "Our players are in shape and in great spirits. I see a difference in the culture of the team. We've got a lot of guys at the point of their careers that we should be really improving. There's a lot of camaraderie and life on this team."

Nearly a decade has passed since the Phillies last made the playoffs — under Manuel in 2011.

In that time, the game has changed a lot, too.

"I don't see situational hitting, the hit and run, running, stolen bases," Manuel said. "We got away from moving runners, putting them in scoring position and we've definitely been trying to hit home runs. 

"But I look now and I think the teaching is coming back the other way. I still think that the swing in baseball is top to bottom and it's not just uppercutting at the ball. Baseball is 150 years old and nobody taught uppercut, although there were hitters who were left alone and they let them hit that way. But at the same time, to me, that's not the best model or the best approach in baseball. I was a straight top-to-bottom hitter and I think those are the best kind of hitters."

In this Phillies camp, infielder/outfielder Scott Kingery is trying to adjust his swing to produce more line drives, be more of a gap-to-gap threat, as manager Joe Girardi said. Manuel thinks that's a good idea.

"We signed Kingery to a contract (before the 2018 season) and had great expectations for him and he changed his stance and his swing," Manuel said. "He had one of the biggest years of any of our minor leaguers when he was gap-to-gap that year he was in Double A and Triple A, and I think he needs to go back to that style of play. Joe's right. He's working right now to find the swing he had. He definitely has to go back to playing within his limits, know thyself."

Manuel is a big fan of Girardi and he likes the addition of Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations.

Most of all, Manuel likes the talent in the clubhouse and believes there's enough to break a long playoff drought, just like his 2007 team did when it won the NL East to break a 14-year run of no postseason baseball in Philadelphia.

"This team puts me in a mind of when Pat Gillick cleared some guys off our team in 2006 and we united together after that," Manuel said. "The same thing could be happening here. There's a very good climate here, a tremendous feel."

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