Manuel believes in a team concept of baseball, with an emphasis on fielders who turn double plays, hitters who put the ball in play and runners who take the extra base. Among the messages he will preach this spring: for Ray Durham to take more pitches and stop swinging for the fences, for Mike Cameron to cut down on his strikeouts and for the lumbering Thomas to be more aggressive going from first to third.

"I'll tell guys I'm not here to challenge you; I'm here to change you," Manuel said. "Challenge is a mind thing. Change is from the heart. If you can get it in your heart, you can change."

Manuel's willingness to demand change goes against the "I'm OK/You're OK" flow of society. Many coaches are uncomfortable suggesting players at the top tier of their sports should consider major alterations to the approach or techniques that have brought them some success in the past.

"Not me," Manuel said. "I'm here to change them. I'm here to change their hearts to the commitment it takes to win a championship, and it's going to be uncomfortable for a while."

Tough year; great year

Manuel's own comfort zone was shattered one cold day last April. He was at Wrigley Field with the Marlins, preparing to play the Cubs in their home opener. He received word that his 72-year-old father, Lorenzo, had suffered a massive stroke at his home in Sacramento.

So would begin the most eventful--and bittersweet--year of Manuel's life. In a period of 40 days, he won a World Series, lost a father, was rejected as a managerial candidate in one place and hired as a manager in another. There's no question which of these events he felt the most deeply.

"I still grieve today about my dad," Manuel said. "I had never felt the sting of death to someone close to me before. But that's where my faith comes in. I know that God wouldn't put more on me than I can handle. I knew I would be able to move on, to progress."

Lorenzo Manuel was an able man. He not only built the family's home in the southeast Georgia town of Cecil, but if the legend is correct, he engineered the county's first indoor plumbing. He and Mildred had seven children, with Jerry the fifth oldest.

Jerry came along too late to see it for himself, but he loves to listen to older relatives tell stories about his father's ability as a pitcher.

"He played against some Negro league teams when they barnstormed through the South," Manuel said. "Those games were a big thing then. They would play on a Sunday afternoon, and everybody in town came. He was known to be quite a pitcher. He could put the ball anywhere you wanted him to put it."

To support his family, Lorenzo Manuel was a cook in the Air Force. He gradually worked his way across the United States, moving to a base in Amarillo, Texas, then another in Sacramento. That's where Jerry met Renette. He was a three-sport athlete--rejecting scholarship offers from Notre Dame and other football powers after being picked by the Detroit Tigers in the 1972 baseball draft--and she was a cheerleader.

"I thought he was kind of cocky, actually," Renette said. "He was very popular. But I realized later, as I watched him, that he wasn't cocky, he is just a confident person. He carried himself with an unusual air of confidence."

Manuel was also unusually interested in matters of the spirit. He says his father, a deacon in his church in Georgia, instilled in him "the genesis" of his Christian beliefs. But Manuel spent years searching for a religion that would fit him as naturally as one of his well-oiled infielder's gloves.

Manuel studied the Nation of Islam as a Black Muslim. He practiced Hinduism as a devotee of Mahatma Gandhi. He still watches the movie "Gandhi" at least once a year and counts Gandhi alongside Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King as among the most powerful influences on his life. Yet he kept searching.

"I believe (organized) religion can be bondage," Manuel said. "It is not freedom in religion, it is bondage. That was not what I was looking for. What I was looking for was a relationship."

Manuel says he didn't find the peace he was pursuing until 1984, when he accepted Christ as his savior. Renette had gone through her own born-again experience three years earlier. They attend the same non-denominational church and share the same Christian lifestyle.

"We know where we get our strength from, and we know who to point each other to," Renette said. "God is as much a part of our life as we are."

Renette credits the shared belief in God for the couple's marriage having survived for almost 25 years. They have raised four children while enduring the chaotic lifestyle that comes with professional baseball.

The oldest, Angela, is a fifth-year sprinter at Oral Roberts University and is married to Montreal Expos outfielder Rondell White. The youngest, Natalie, is a 6th grader with a love for soccer. In between the bookend girls are two boys--Jerry Jr., a Florida A&M junior who plays baseball, and Anthony, a 10th grader.