Saturday, March 29, 2008

Our Manager Manny Acta--Opening Season Chat

When first hired by Our Washington Nationals as Manager--not many folks in Washington DC knew much about him. But in a short period of time--Manny Acta has become a Fan Favorite. Professional, hard working and very charismatic--this Native of The Dominican Republic displayed fine leadership skills during his rookie campaign.
Always positive--Manny Acta emerged in 2007 as a fine young manager. And despite the many daily ups and downs of the game-- Our Number 14 never lost his fabulous smile.

Fan Friendly like no other and despite what has to be a difficult daily schedule--Acta has shown the calm and decency to speak with every fan--when possible. If you ever visit Viera, Florida for Spring Training--you will see what I mean. After each and every practice--Manny gives his time to those who have so patiently waited. Showing composure and a friendly face, he seemingly, understands the importance of Our Fan Base. Even at RFK Stadium last season--Manny Acta was known to briefly sign autographs and take pictures for those wanting--before games.

That composure has served him well in the dugout. Despite what some were calling "The Worst Team Of All Time" in 2007, Our Number 14 never gave in to those predictions. "I go out to win each and every game," he consistently stated. And Our Washington Nationals responded. No--they didn't even finish at .500 (Manny's Goal), but you can't say Our Team didn't compete. Manny Acta set the tone for Our Franchise last season. He, willingly, took the leadership role--representing change for our once floundering franchise.
Those involved with Major League Baseball took notice also. Even his former team--The New York Mets--had to wonder if they made a mistake by not advancing him to their Manager's spot after the 2006 campaign. Their indecision was Washington's gain. While the New York Mets struggled down the stretch in 2007--Our Young Washington Nationals experienced a new degree of respect. By "Teaching & Preaching", Manny was slowly turning Our Team around.

Now--with The 2008 Championship Season on the horizon--it was time to touch base with Our Manager--to gauge his thoughts. No--this was not an easy chat to set up. Timing, workloads and schedules put this one off for some time. Our Number 14 told me he wanted to do it--but our agendas never coincided. Until finally--Manny Acta and I were able to speak, for 10 minutes, this past Monday evening--March 25th at 5:40PM via phone.

Gracious and fun as always--we dove right into the matters at hand.

There was so much to talk about, but so little time. Barely enough moments to allow for follow up questions, especially when it was important to address Manny's new charity foundation--first. Launched on November 5, 2007, impACTA Kids was founded by Mr. Acta to create opportunities for youths in The Dominican Republic and The United States. Specifically--Our Manager's first goal (of many) is to build a Baseball Complex in his hometown--Ingenio Consuelo, Dominican Republic. Manny needs assistance--provided through Tax-Deductible Donations--so those kids in need can reach their potential. Our Number 14 is passionate about this project.

Not surprisingly, impACTA Kids is where My Conversation with Manny Acta will commence--chatting about his Foundation. Then, its on to baseball.

Here we go:

I want to start by talking about your impActa Kids Foundation. I understand you are trying to educate and raise awareness for kids, from not only your hometown of Consuelo, but also the entire Dominican Republic and here in The United States—can you tell me the strides you have made so far? (SBF)

“Well, we launched it in November. Basically, our website is up and running—we are trying to raise donations to build a three field baseball complex in the community where I come from in Consuelo. That is the first step. After that is accomplished, My Foundation will be tied up with education, health care, necessities from where I came from.”

Sohna wanted me to ask you –What does this Foundation mean for you—personally? What do you hope to get out of this—in the long run? (SBF)

“It has always been a dream of mine to give back to my community where I grew up. And I always wanted the opportunity—if I had a little bit of money—or if I was blessed, as I am right now—to be in a position where I could use my name and help out those back home—I was going to do it. I have that opportunity—right in front of me—right now. I just want to make sure The Kids nowadays grow up in a better way than I grew up. Also, it’s time they get (The Children from Consuelo) a better field than the one I had growing up. I think it (The Goal) is doable. I am all for it. We are going to reach that goal and we are not going to stop until we do it.”

I know that some others here in DC are pretty excited about helping you out. If I can pass the word here and assist in some way—I would be more than happy to do it. (SBF)

“I am already getting some donations from some of Our Fans—we truly appreciate everyone that is willing to give. It’s a good cause that I believe is worthy.”

No doubt—it never hurts to assist children. (SBF)

“Yeah—now we need the folks who read Nats320 to help us and pass the word too.”

You know I will. (SBF)

Anyone wishing to make a donation can contact the impACTA Kids Foundation--P.O. Box 459, Lyndhurst, New Jersey 07071.

Turning to baseball—when I was down in Florida—talking to your players, reading things in the papers—hitting, scoring runs, fielding, bullpen support—those parts of the game are, seemingly, taken care of this year. So, is the consistent quality of your starting pitching—the only major issue remaining to making The Nationals a contender? (SBF)

“I think that would be the only remaining question mark with our club. I think our outfield is a lot better. Our defense improved last year and Our Bullpen is our strength. So, obviously, that (Starting Pitching) is a little bit of a question mark—only because our guys really don’t have the track record. Most of them have only had one year of Big League Experience—but hopefully, that will change in the future. But, that is a very fair assessment to make.”

A lot of people make a lot of negative comments and some have stated that The Nationals are wasting 2008 because they just want to wait for their young pitchers to emerge. What is your reaction to that? (SBF)

“Well, people are not very good at making predictions. And, they are worse at believing in them. We do have a plan in place here (in Washington). But still, we are going to start at Zero & Zero for Opening Day and my goal is to always try to win each and every game—regardless of whom we play—and what we have (on the field) and what The Plan is. I work for people who are pretty clear as to what we are trying to accomplish, but are also very competitive and want to win. So, once we get our team down to 25 (Roster Spots For Opening Day), we are going to go forward and try to win—regardless of what people think of us. I think we went through that last year (with all the dire predictions—including ‘worst team of all time’). We are moving forward."

You stated that the team has made a lot of progress between last year—your first year as Manager—and this year. Where do you think the team has really improved over the last year with you as Manager? (SBF)

“Our Offense has made improvements with the additions of Lastings Milledge obviously. Milledge also stops the revolving door we had in centerfield last year when we used six different guys. Now, he has put a stop to it. He is going to be a key to our lineup. Also, the addition of (Elijah) Dukes and having Wily Mo Pena for a full season—once he comes back from the DL (Disabled List)—Paul LoDuca—that’s a lot of progress when it comes down to offense. Remember—we finished last in runs scored last season. Also, Luis Ayala is about a year and one-half past his (elbow) surgery. He’s got a little bit more zip on his fastball. Joel Hanrahan in the bullpen has emerged. Our (Young) Starters—having had a year of experience—are a big difference compared to last year when we were really scrambling to put four guys together to go along with (John) Patterson (for Opening Day-2007). So, you can tell the difference—by seeing our rotation in AAA—which is loaded with prospects this year.”

How about your bench for 2008—you have a prominent right handed hitting lineup—in many cases. How valuable will your bench be this year? You seem to have some good players to choose from. (SBF)

“Yes we do. I think the signing of Aaron Boone, guys like Willie Harris, Rob Mackowiak and whoever does not make the starting lineup out of those guys that are battling it out. I think our bench is going to be deeper and a lot better than last year. We are more experienced and have guys ready to contribute.”

Speaking of bench players—there has been a lot of talk lately about Felipe Lopez. I am curious to know whether you feel he can return to the All-Star Player he was a few years ago? (SBF)

“The tools are still there. I don’t see why not. I think Felipe has shown a good attitude in camp and it’s not over yet (for him). He’s fairly young. I don’t see why not.”

You mentioned Elijah Dukes in passing. What does he need to do to become an asset on and off the field for The Nationals? (SBF)

“He’s followed up on everything we have put in place for him during the off season. Now that the season is going to start—I hope he continues to follow what we have put in place for him. And that he not only has some success on the field—but also turn his life around. It is going to be a whole year type of thing (with Elijah)—it’s not just one week and over with. This is a long process for him and we hope he has the will to do it.”

That day in Viera when Sohna and I ran into him by accident—literally. I have to say we were unexpectedly taken at how enjoyable he was to talk to. It was a real shocker to us. (SBF)

“Yes. We (The Nationals) are not familiar with everything he has done in the past, but every indication we have here has been a positive one—especially his work ethic. We are going to have to wait and see. We are doing everything we can to help this young man turn his life around.”

Nothing has given me more pleasure this spring than seeing Nick Johnson back on the field. I am really happy for him. So, how do you handle this situation now given—with two really good guys (Dmitri Young) at first base? (SBF)

“We are going to make the best decision for our team. Obviously, we do have two good guys. But, both cannot be on the same field at the same time. That’s also a sign of progress—because we have choices.”

At this point--I was informed the next question would be the final one for this conversation and I asked Manny a special question--which will be posted in a Special Write Up for Opening Night--alongside a series of other quotes. But, I was able to ask Our Number 14 one additional question concerning the dugouts at New Nationals Park on Thursday evening--during Our Washington Nationals Welcome Home Tour.

New Nationals Park's dugouts are large and deep. Unlike RFK Stadium--players cannot lean on the top railing and peer out onto the field or over the dugout into the stands. Will the new dugout setup--which does not allow you to lean on the top railing--help or hurt your managing style? (SBF)

“I am really not a leaning on the rail type of guy. A top of the step guy. I had to do that at RFK. But, I like the set up here where I can hide from the other dugout and just be able to connect with my third base coach. This is going to help because the other team will not be able to see me as well.”

With that--The Opening Season Chat with Manny Acta came to an end.

Always interesting to speak with--Our Number 14 is personable, fun, but serious. He understands and appreciates the job at hand as Manager of Our Washington Nationals. While at the same time--has not lost his roots. No, it's not hard to cheer for Manny Acta. As the 2008 Season begins, The African Queen and I wish him the best and much success with his new foundation--impACTA Kids.

Again--anyone wishing to make a donation can contact the impACTA Kids Foundation--P.O. Box 459, Lyndhurst, New Jersey 07071.

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