WASHINGTON -- Although the Nationals and Orioles did not qualify for the 2008 postseason, the Mid-Atlantic region was well represented, thanks to Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, his hitting coach, Milt Thompson, and Rays center fielder B.J. Upton.
Baseball connections run deep for all three in this area, and each brought those connections with them deep into October.The people in Buena Vista, Va., don't call the Phillies manager by his first name, Charlie. He's "Fook" to them. Manuel's middle name is Fuqua, and the doctor who delivered him decided to call him "Fook." The name stuck.
His childhood friend, Buck Stinnett, described Manuel back in the day as a down-home country kid.
"He was a nice person," Stinnett said. "If he popped up in a game, Fook didn't get mad. He didn't have to because he usually knocked the ball out of the ballpark."
To baseball fans in Philadelphia, Manuel is Charlie. And Charlie, 64, has become a popular figure since he joined the Phillies as their skipper in 2006, guiding them to back-to-back National League East titles and their first World Series championship in 28 years.
"I tell you, he can manage any team in the American League or National League," Stinnett said. "I believe he would get along with all the players. He is one of those Southern boys who is easy going. When things get rough, he doesn't mind telling you like he did with Jimmy Rollins and put him on the bench."
While Manuel was making his managerial decisions in the World Series, Thompson was right by his side watching the Phillies hitters closely. Hitting has been Thompson's specialty ever since he was a kid while growing up in the Washington, D.C., area.
Thompson was a baseball star while attending Zadok Magruder High School in Montgomery County and is one of three Howard University alums to have played in the big leagues. Gerry Davis and Bubba Morton are the others.
"He swung a huge bat," said Ron Harris, an assistant baseball coach when Thompson attended Howard University. "If he hit a ground ball to second, you better hurry because [most times] he would beat it out."
Thompson's success on the diamond carried over to the highest level, where he played 13 seasons, most notably with the Phillies and Cardinals. In fact, Thompson was a member of the Phils squad that lost to the Blue Jays in six games in the 1993 World Series.
Under Thompson's tutelage, both Ryan Howard and Rollins have won NL Most Valuable Player honors.
"What I can see from Milt is, he has retained all the stuff he was taught from high school," Harris said. "I know Chuck Hinton [the former baseball coach at Howard] talked about hitting and outfield play. In hearing Milt being interviewed recently, he is talking about some of the same stuff that Chuck talked about when we were all together."
It's also obvious that Upton had good teachers while growing in Virginia Beach, Va., the same town that produced his younger brother, Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton, and Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
In 56 games over two years at Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake, Va., B.J. batted .645 with 24 home runs, 83 RBIs and 68 stolen bases. He drew 45 walks and struck out only four times.
Upton also excelled on the mound, going 9-2 with a 0.79 ERA and two no-hitters while leading the Gators to the state championship in 2001 and a state semifinal loss in '02.
No wonder the Rays made him the first overall pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.Two years later, Upton made it to the big leagues, and on baseball's biggest stage in 2008, he showed the world just how good he can be.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.