- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

During their lengthy search for a new manager last fall, Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden and president Stan Kasten spoke with a number of high-profile candidates who might have brought instant credibility to this young franchise.

The Nationals, though, weren’t necessarily looking for instant credibility. They were looking for long-term credibility. And that’s not really something they were going to get with Lou Piniella, Dusty Baker or Joe Girardi.

“Part of the criteria in our interview process was that we wanted a long-term solution in our manager,” Bowden said. “Someone who was willing to buy into the plan, develop young players and have strong leadership abilities.” So instead of those big-name managers with the lofty track records, the Nationals handed the reins over to Manny Acta, a 38-year-old with no major-league managing experience.

Bowden and Kasten’s reasoning was simple: Acta was the kind of young and enthusiastic manager who could grow with his team. And he wouldn’t be likely to grow weary after only a few seasons. He would potentially become this franchise’s manager for years and years to come.

Said Bowden: “He was the long-term selection.” Less than five months on the job, Acta looks like the right choice. His club may be short on talent, but he has infused the kind of optimism and enthusiasm in the Washington clubhouse rarely seen during Frank Robinson’s tenure.

In many ways, Acta thinks and acts like he’s still a player. He threw batting practice, hit fungoes and participated in some fielding drills during spring training, and he interacts with his players like he’s one of their contemporaries, not a solitary authority figure.

Nationals players have responded to their new leader. Most feel like they can relate with Acta, who never played in the big leagues but did coach third base for a total of five years with the Montreal Expos and New York Mets.

In many ways, Acta symbolizes the state of the Nationals franchise. He’s young and unproven, but it’s clear he has the potential to enjoy significant success.

Maybe not today, but for many years down the road.

“Right after I interviewed, I just said, ‘This is perfect for me,’” he said. “A chance to put together this club. The plan is just wonderful, with the new stadium coming next year. It’s very attractive, and I think you can do things right here. This city will have a winner for a long time.”

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