Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Manny Acta, Z, Mr. Kasten, Mr. Lerner and Chicken Man
He said all the right things, was engaging, funny and self deprecating during his 30 minutes on stage. But, more than anything else, Our Washington Nationals New Manager, Manny Acta had Presence. At the conclusion of today's Press Conference, at The Washington Square Office Building, in downtown DC, you could easily say, without managing one single game--The Nats new manager has Magnetism and Charisma. You just could not dislike this guy--at least on day one.
To my total surprise (and complete joy!!), my television network assigned me to cover the unveiling of Manny Acta in Washington. I was more than pleased to attend. Taking my digital camera along in tow--attempting to cover the event as fully as possible--but still working for our network. I counted 14 total TV Cameras and an equal amount of snappers, including Ian from The Nationals Pride Blog--shooting the presser for his website. Boswell and Svrluga from The Post, as well as, Ladson from Nationals.com., The Washington Times, Local TV, ESPN, Comcast SportNet, XM Radio--but to my knowledge, No MASN--interesting.
Mr. Kasten stated that The Nationals had not made up their minds on hiring Acta until late last week. But, from the very start--He, along with Bowden were quite impressed with Manny's knowledge and ideas about moving this Franchise Forward. Jimbo glowingly raving that "Manny Acta just fit so many categories, as far as being a leader, a motivator, a disciplinarian, someone that believes in pitching and defenses, someone that believes in playing the game the right way." Bowden going on to state that no one knew of Jim Leyland when he was hired as Pittsburgh Pirates Manager, and everyone knows about Leyland, now. Acta, Jimbo feels, is that same quality talent.
When introduced, Manny stepped to the stage, to great applause from many team employees, including Team Owner, Mark Lerner, and fans surrounding the press area. Noticeably, with tears in his eye, Acta thanked the one person who he could not have made it to this position without--his Wife, Cindy--"Who has been with me this entire rollercoaster ride" Cindy nodding in appreciation of thanks, while sitting next to Nats Star Third Sacker, Ryan Zimmerman. Manny saying, he had to turn to coaching early in life (at age 22) because "I was a terrible player and I didn't want to put anybody else through the pain of watching me." To great laughs.
With that, Jim Bowden presented Manny with his new uniform--Number 14, and, the big guy proudly wrapped the new jersey around himself--all smiles, taking in the enjoyment of the moment. "I like their plan"--the Nats New Manager stated concerning the position both Kasten and Bowden have moved the team toward. "We are going to win here, sooner, than later" Acta went on to talk about how great the entire situation is, with some very young talent and the new ballpark being built on South Capitol Street. "Its an exciting time to be in Washington, DC".
Mr Kasten stated: "I could have not predicted back to when we started that this was going to be our hire. It was getting to know Manny, hearing about him first, meeting him, learning more about him. That's what made out decision fairly easy. He was intent on listening to our plan, how we wanted to go about improving our franchise. I really think we have a manager who is not just on board ready to do the job in the Major Leagues. He is on board with our plan."
"Alfonso Soriano was the very first person to call me to congratulate me on the job. But, I am not dumb enough to think my presence here is the ONLY THING that will bring Fonzie back to the team." Acta went on to insinuate that, when it comes to Soriano--it will be all about money. But, he did say, he still believes, those 2 draft picks, the team would receive if Alfonso leaves, will only help the team, not hurt it. But, "I am not counting anything out, maybe Alfonso will come play for us."
Number 14 said he likes the everyday lineup, currently in place, with, and without Soriano. "I know [on paper] it's a long shot because of the depleted starting rotation, but it is baseball. You never know. We are going to work hard. We are going to do everything possible to win a game on an everyday basis. The bottom line is, pitching and defense wins games. He went on to say "We are going to be a top 5 Revenue Team, we are going to be able to compete with the best clubs. Its a tremendous opportunity and I am honored to be the 2nd Manager of The Washington Nationals."
Acta will be a big draw for the young Latino talent that's developed each and every day in, not only his native Dominican Republic, but all over Latin America. Manny is popular, well known, although "No one is as Popular as Big Papi." (in reference to Boston Red Sox Slugger David Ortiz), he stated. But, you could sense that Washington Management feels Manny will be able to help recruit many of those up and coming ballplayers in the Caribbean that so many teams covet.
Mr. Kasten replying: "When you manage in the Dominican, you are really managing stars. He has this great impressive list of experiences with young kids, developing kids, handling stars and he handled them all superbly every where he has been."
Replying in Spanish, to answer a Latino reporters question--Manny stated, "This is the capital of the world, and this is the world's team. Not America's team -- the world's team."
There are 10 current Nationals Players and Coaches that worked with Acta during his 3 years as Third Base Coach of The Montreal Expos--Pitching Coach, Randy St.Claire and players--John Patterson, Jon Rauch, Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala, Shawn Hill, Nick Johnson, Jose Vidro, Brian Schneider and Ryan Church. Manny RAVED about Randy St.Claire, called the Nats pitching coach, one of the finest minds in the game, "a great teacher and motivator".
The Question and Answer period with the working media, went on for about 30 minutes. And, when the hour was up, Acta, along with Mr. Kasten and Jim Bowden did the grand tour--TV, Radio and Print interviews, until all the media's thirst for the news was fulfilled.
During this time, I had the fabulous opportunity to chat for over 5 minutes with Ryan Zimmerman, casually on the side. Z having only heard about Acta, not meeting him, for the first time, until today--but still liked Manny's youthful exuberance and his excitement for moving Our Nats forward. I asked Ryan whether he was really upset about not winning The Rookie Of The Year Award, yesterday. Zimmerman responded diplomatically, stating "this was a tough year for good rookies--Hanley (Ramirez) was very deserved" Then went on with this great quote: " But, if I keep on having good seasons like I did this past year, and we improve as a team, we are going to win alot, for years, and hopefully go all the way to The World Series. That, is FAR MORE IMPORTANT than just another award."
We went on to talk about the Nats Lineup: Z commenting: "Even if Alfonso doesn't come back, we have a good hitting lineup. We are going to score 4-5 runs each game, most nights. Kearns & Church have power, Nick comes back, hopefully, from injury, he's very valuable; Brian Schneider had a terrific second half, Vidro is a hitting machine when he's healthy, Felipe provides speed. We don't really know about Guzman yet, but we can score" But, what about that starting pitching, if you are giving up 8-9 runs per game, I asked "Yeah, that's the problem", Ryan said, "but, I feel we are working on it. We are going to be alright."
As the conversation continued, we began to talk about what he's been doing this off season. Zimmerman has grown a thick winter beard. So thick, some of the media did not recognize him, at first. Z had not picked up a ball or hit, since the last game on October 1st, but has been working out, running and lifting weights. Lately, he's been in the DC Area, searching for a house to live. Stunningly, he asked me, where I lived and I told him--In Northern Virginia. "Is it a nice place?" he questioned. "Yeah, great neighborhood, you could be my neighbor anytime." We both laughed. I actually gave him some ideas. Zimmerman said he would look into them. With that, the Media came charging in and our conversation ended. We shook hands, with Ryan saying "A pleasure to see you again, I will check into those house ideas."
With that, I moved on--and ran into Stan Kasten, moving from one interview to the next. Very briefly, we shook hands, and I stated "believe it or not, I am actually working this event." Mr. Kasten grabbed a hold of my press credentials hanging around my neck, looked at them and started to chuckle--having no idea I was in the media. "He's a decent hire (I said of Acta)--very funny and self-deprecating" "Yes, he is that" he stated, still laughing at my press credentials, and off he went to the next interview.
Later, Mark Lerner and I got into a conversation--Mr. Lerner enjoying a rabid Nats Fan getting to cover something he enjoys. Mr. Lerner eyes bulging when I mentioned that I have attended virtually every single home game. His sister, Marla, looking at me, laughing "You're NUTS!!"
I would be remiss if I did not mention that another Great Nats Fan-- Hugh (Chicken Man) was in attendance. Hugh, well known for waving the beheaded rubber chicken from behind the 3rd base dugout at every single Nats Home Game, as diehard as I am, showed up to express his pleasure with Manny Acta being hired. Talking to both Mr. Lerner and Mr. Kasten, posing for a picture with Acta and getting Manny to sign his very first autograph as Manager of The Washington Nationals.
Hugh and I chatted for some time, glad to see each other again, and talk about our passion, Nats Baseball.
Manny Acta, a coach not too many knew much about, today, made a good first impression on Washington, DC. He alone, does not solve the many problems still to be worked out in the righting of this franchise. But, you couldn't help but feel good about Manny and this hire, after watching him perform today. He was a Natural, on stage, great with the Media--the type of guy you cheer for. 3 Months until Spring Training, 2007 and, Our Washington Nationals took a Big Step Forward Today.