NEW YORK -- On Wednesday, Charlie Manuel became the first active Major League Baseball manager to visit the MLB Fan Cave since it was opened for the 2011 season. He regaled the just-reduced group of Cave Dwellers with funny stories, reported that Ryan Howard should be back before the All-Star break, answered skeptics who say Roy Halladay's injury is the last straw, taped an upcoming video with Shane Victorino where the skipper reads his player's latest tweets, and made another pretty good case for himself as arguably the coolest manager in the game.
"I like it here. Actually, it's made my day," said Manuel, 68, clad in a navy jacket and open collar before heading over to Queens for a night game against the Mets. "It's fabulous, it's the first time I've ever been here, and it's good. It was very entertaining, and I'll definitely come back again."
Hundreds of Major League players and celebrities have visited the 15,000-square-foot hub at Fourth Street and Broadway in Greenwich Village, but this marked the first time a manager took time out of a busy road schedule to join in the fun. Bobby Valentine, now Red Sox manager, visited police and firefighters last September before the 9/11 10th anniversary, but that was while he was an ESPN commentator. Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda has been there, as well.
"It was incredible to have Charlie Manuel here," said Jacqueline Parkes, MLB senior vice president of advertising and marketing. "Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, a classic in the game of baseball, a classic in sports in general -- truly an honor for all of us at the Cave. Gordon was obviously beyond thrilled as a diehard Phillies fan to see him, but so were all of us. Charlie's a legend, and I hope he had a lot of fun today. It looked like he had a lot of fun, and we hope he comes back."
"I think it's very respectable, and shows what Charlie's all about," said Victorino, who made his second Fan Cave appearance. "Charlie loves the game of baseball. People around him, if you know him, it's all about the game of baseball. He loves the game, and obviously that's probably why he came here today, because he knows this is a representation of what baseball is all about."
Victorino said that is exactly the kind of demeanor that makes Manuel the perfect person to guide a Phillies club through the kind of adversity it has faced so far in 2012.
"Yeah, absolutely. Charlie is the right manager," Victorino said. "He's the kind of guy who lets us go out there and play [and says], 'Don't get caught up in the moment, just let it happen. Go out there, and work hard and play hard.' That's all he asks.
"Charlie's just funny. Every time you say something, you never know what's going to come out of his mouth, in regards to the moment. But that's what makes him great. That's what makes him who he is. He's funny, he keeps everything loose, and that's why you love playing for the guy."
Manuel has managed this season without Chase Utley and Howard, and now he will be without ace Roy Halladay for an expected six to eight weeks, as Halladay landed on the disabled list this week. But Manuel talked to Howard on Tuesday and reports good progress, and hopes that the slugger will be back in the next month.
"He's doing good. He's taking ground balls, he's moving around the bag, he's taking throws, he's doing some simulated games hitting," Manuel said. "Probably by the end of this week or next week he'll start playing in some extended spring games, and we'll see where he goes from there. I'd say once he starts playing, he's probably going to need anywhere from about 40 or maybe 50 at-bats, and maybe he'll be ready to join us. Probably we should have him before the All-Star break."
The Phillies have won five consecutive National League East titles. Although consistently at the bottom of the standings lately, they were still a game over .500 and just four games out of first place entering Wednesday. After the news of Halladay being shelved, there was immediate reaction that the club is truly in trouble this time. You wouldn't know that talking to Manuel.
"I think we've always been fortunate, in some ways we've been lucky, because over the years we've always had injuries," Manuel said. "People sometimes would say because we did win our division, they forgot how beat up we got or how many injuries we had. We've always been fortunate enough to be able to put some players in there. They've always kept us in a good position to win. We've always kind of weathered the storm.
"We like to get our players back, and once we get them back, of course we've been very successful. That's what we've got to do right now. It's a good chance for some guys who are going to be in our rotation now, guys who were looking for chances, like [Kyle] Kendrick, Vance Worley, [Joe] Blanton, those guys get a chance to pitch and do a good job and show they can keep us in the race.
"I think we can do it. That's kind of how baseball goes," Manuel added. "That's what you gotta do. You've got to stay positive, and it's an everyday grind, and we've got to try to outplay the team every day that we play. If our No. 1 priority is to win the game, and if we play on that day and that moment to win the game and outplay the other team, then more than likely we win, and that's what we try to do."
Manuel told many stories over the course of a long Facebook chat. He had fun reading the cue cards that had his players' tweets, and in the video that will be posted soon on MLBFanCave.com, you'll see Victorino do his best to get his manager to commit to starting a Twitter page.
Don't hold your breath. But the fun goes on, and even if the news coming out of the Phillies' clubhouse is ominous at times for their fans, Manuel says the guys inside the clubhouse have the loose vibe that keeps it all in perspective.
"Victorino's good, Jimmy Rollins, actually we've got quite a few," Manuel said of his jokesters. "Howard's witty, as far as having a laugh and stuff like that. Our clubhouse is usually pretty loose. Our guys get along. Our attitude is tremendous."