- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

ST. CLOUD, Fla. — Little about Manny Acta’s house stands out.

Sure, it’s a nice place: Four bedrooms plus a playroom, with an enclosed pool and hot tub in the backyard and a huge HDTV in the living room.

But that’s what most upper-middle class homes look like these days. A stranger at the door likely would assume this house is owned by the regional manager of a local computer software company, not the manager of the Washington Nationals.

Which is just fine with Acta, who prefers the quiet comfort of his Central Florida tract-home development to a luxury condo on the beach or a three-story mansion along a golf course.

“Why would I need anything more than this?” he questions as he sits on the back patio. “What do I need, 10 bedrooms? No, this is perfect.”

And this is home. Yes, Acta grew up in the Dominican Republic and still spends regular time there. And yes, during the baseball season, he migrates north to his team’s locale. But when he needs to unwind, when he wants to lounge around with his wife, Cindy, and daughters Jenny (20) and Leslie (11) and leave baseball behind, he comes here.

Where is here? Well, with due respect to his neighbors and the community at large, it’s basically the middle of nowhere. Visitors had better pay close attention to Acta’s driving directions — “take Boggy Creek Road for about 20 minutes, make a left when you pass the old-time gas station” — lest they wind up in a swamp, face to face with a family of irritable alligators.

This is backwater country, only 30 minutes from the Orlando airport but seemingly a continent away from civilization.

And this is exactly where Acta wants to be. The people of Washington may know him only as the enthusiastic new manager of the local ballclub who has hit the big time after two decades of anonymity. But people around here know him only as the 38-year-old husband and father who shops at Kohl’s and celebrates his birthday with the guys from his rec league softball team.

None of that has changed since the Nationals hired him two months ago.

“I always take pride in being humble. It’s one of my favorite words,” Acta said. “A lot of people from where I come from are shocked. They think you’re supposed to change, and I haven’t. I’m just trying to be myself.”

Acta has been this way since the day he first set foot on American soil in 1987 as an 18-year-old prospect in the Houston Astros’ farm system. After growing up in poverty in the Dominican village of Consuelo, even a minor leaguer’s modest salary and living conditions felt luxurious to a kid who left his family behind, taught himself English and set out to realize his dream of making it to the major leagues.

Twenty years and one major career path shift later, Acta has arrived at last. He did it the hard way, fizzling out after six unmemorable seasons as a light-hitting infielder, then transforming himself into a coach and manager and working his way up through the ranks of the minor leagues in laborious fashion.

Cindy, his wife of 18 years, has been at his side nearly from the beginning. A Central Florida native six years older than Acta, she lived in the same apartment complex in nearby Kissimmee as many of the Astros’ minor leaguers and immediately took a liking to one tall Dominican player in particular who could speak English.

“I thought, ‘Hey, he’s cute,’ ” she said.

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