Mike Ferraro, the Cleveland Indians' manager, leaned against the first base railing as he talked. Although he doesn't like to stand for extended periods, he no longer needs to sit down for rest every few minutes. He says he hasn't felt better in years. In fact, Ferraro may not have felt so good in a long time. That's a step in the right direction.

Two months ago, the 38-year-old Ferraro--chosen in the winter for his first big-league managing job--was in the hospital having his left kidney and several lymph nodes removed: a malignant cancer.

One month ago, in spring training in Arizona, he was conducting workouts from a golf cart. He took naps at 3:30 in the afternoon, then went to bed for the night at 7:30. Whenever he so much as chuckled, he had to grab his side in pain.

Ferraro's doctors, not to mention his family and friends, wondered about the effects on a rookie manager of taking over a club just nine days after having his kidney cut out and only two weeks after learning--out of the blue--that he had cancer.

Now, the beginnings of a verdict are coming in on Ferraro, both as a man regaining his health and as a young manager who's getting his feet wet. Ferraro thinks--perhaps hopes would be more honest--that he sees light on both fronts.

Nevertheless, his terror is still fresh. "I get depressed. Sometimes I feel like everything is caving in. My family, my health, baseball," said Ferraro, whose 67-year-old father has had two strokes and, in the last year, cancer of the colon. "That's when I need to go to the race track."

Most of the time, however, Ferraro embodies the human capacity for unexpected, almost inexplicable, resilience.

In a way, he looks forward to his daily interviews; he exorcises his experience by repeating it, working through all the details and dates.

Ferraro, who got a cup of coffee in the majors as an infielder and who was a Yankee coach the past four years, first saw blood in his urine in November. Tests were inconclusive. In February, he was truly shaken.

"There were big clots. It was black, dark red. I got scared."

Suddenly, 20 years of work in organized baseball, laying the groundwork for a managing career, all seemed meaningless. Three times the doctors "went in." Once, "they drilled a hole in my groin" for a kidney scan. Still, Ferraro said, he was too busy thinking about "Blyleven's arm and McBride's eyes. Little did I know what serious condition I was in . . . I really didn't believe I had anything wrong with me."

The word "malignant" from a pathologist changed that. "For four or five days, I really didn't care about anything," said Ferraro, adding with a self-deprecatory laugh, "For the first time since I was announced (as manager) I didn't think about baseball."

As soon as he came out of surgery--minus a kidney--everything, in a strange way, started to get better.

"The doctors say its 80-90 percent that they got it all. They want me to have my lungs checked out periodically. But that's it. There's no therapy. I can eat and drink everything I want . . . I was very, very lucky to catch it (in time)."

While he recovered, Ferraro found himself innundated by letters, bouquets, fruits baskets. "I didn't realize so many people cared for me. I didn't know I had so many friends. I got about 800 telegrams. I'd get emotional and I'd sit there and read 'em and cry," said Ferraro, a man of such average height, weight and appearance that his only distinguishing characteristic seems to be the directness of his intense gaze.

Of most surprise to Ferraro was the effect of his disease on his father.

"My father had been taking chemo (therapy) since January . . . He went through the whole thing. 'Why did this all have to happen to me?' . . . After I went in the hospital, he started callin' me. He's not worried about himself any more because he's worried about me . . . He says, 'I don't care what happens to me. Is Michael all right?'

"Last year at this time, he'd lost all interest in everything. And he's always been such an active person. He'd go to bed every night listening to the Yankees.

"He's paralyzed on his right side . . . He calls me every other day. He always says, 'I hope I'm not bugging you, but you gotta realize I've got nothing to do.' He knows I'm glad to hear from him. We're a very close family . . . I'll tell him, 'Your team--the Yankees--lost.' He'll say, 'They're not my team. The Indians are my team.' "

Ferraro has begun to notice other subtle changes in himself, changes he likes to hope are for the better. Always, he was a baseballaholic; it's only the slightest of exaggerations to say that he met his wife during a rain delay and that they were married on the way to Yankee Stadium. Always a chronic worrier, Ferraro had high blood pressure, trouble sleeping; basically, he was on edge 24 hours a day, in a hurry to meet his Type-A heart attack.

"It's relaxed me," he said. "Actually, this is the most relaxed I've ever been . . . I tend to get keyed up every day, get about three hours sleep . . . Managing is fun, it's challenging, but it's also frustrating . . . This has made me not be as frustrated."

His wife predicted that he would feel better after his surgery because doctors said his high blood pressure was partly due to kidney problems. Now, his blood pressure is normal.

Despite his hardships, and the modest prospects of his 5-5 Indians, Ferraro said he has never felt more alive--though in a troubled sort of way.

For the past two years, when they were Yankee coaches in New York, Ferraro and Baltimore Manager Joe Altobelli roomed together. Altobelli thinks Ferraro's experience may be basically positive, so long as his health stays as sound as doctors tell him it should.

Said Altobelli: "Sometimes in this life, you need a wake-up call."