- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 31, 2007

When the New York Mets came to RFK Stadium for the final weekend of the 2006 season, Matt Krimm and Dave Hammerly were determined to take their last shot of the year.

The season before, they became strong supporters of the Washington Nationals.

They tortured the opposing team’s third base coach, and their target that weekend was future Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta.

This ritual started when Krimm, the owner of W. Curtis Draper cigar shop downtown on 14th Street, and Hammerly, who works at the shop, were sitting in their box seats during a Nationals game in their inaugural season when they saw some nearby fans razzing Houston Astros coach Doug Mansolino.

“They were really getting on him, not vulgar or anything, but they were killing him, and it was getting to him,” Krimm said. “We picked up on that.”

They not only picked up on it, but raised it to an art form. They would find out the third base coach for the opposing team, then get on the Internet to find out every obscure fact about him. Any little sore spot, they picked at it.

“We try to be creative, find out stuff about these coaches like where they grew up or where they coached or managed before, if they got cut from somewhere,” Krimm said. “It is free game, as long as it is clean.”

The relationships between fans and sports figures has taken a beating in recent years, from the Brawl at the Palace to the two goons who leaped onto the field at Comiskey Park in Chicago and attacked Kansas City Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa. The image is often one of cursing fans, with courage via beer, going far beyond any reasonable boundaries.

Well, Krimm, Hammerly, Donnee Thompson and their other partners in mayhem are bringing back the good old art of fan razzing without the ugliness.

“We never get vulgar,” Krimm said. “There is nothing personal, no mention of family members, only stuff within baseball and what they have done. So many of these guys bounced around the minor leagues and played in all sorts of places and only got so far in their careers. So we find out that someone got shelled in a game in rookie league ball or something like that, and hammer away on it.”

Sometimes they get no reaction, other times they get their share of dirty looks. Krimm said Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo enjoyed their act.

“Whitey Herzog once referred to him as ‘the secret weapon’ and we rode him about that, kept making fun of it,” Krimm said. “He gave us some banter back and forth.”

They were primed and ready when Acta came on the field for the final weekend of the season.

“We went online and did research on Manny, printed it out and took it to the game with us,” Hammerly said. “We had it in our pockets and would pull it out looking for something to yell. We are pretty well prepared. We wait until the crowd might be quiet and then blurt something out. Manny could hear everything, and it was hysterical. You could see he was wondering where we were getting all this stuff from.”

Acta was particularly targeted because of the uniform he was wearing.

“We went after Manny hard because it was the Mets, and you have to hate the Mets,” Krimm said. “At one point, I yelled at Manny in Spanish. We saw that his team had lost in the Dominican Winter League playoffs once, so we were giving him a hard time about that. There were about two half innings I was yelling in Spanish, and one time he called me down to the wall and said, ‘What did you say?’ He laughed and said ‘I don’t know where you get this stuff.’ We were doing it all in fun.

“They ran off in the ninth inning after they won, and I yelled, ‘That’s all, Manny, I got nothing left for you, you won,’ he turned around and gave us a little salute,” Krimm said.

Six months later, Acta still remembers.

“Of course, I remember those guys,” he said. “They were on me the whole time. I was thinking, ‘Don’t they have any mercy on me because I was with this team before? Don’t they know I was just here a couple of years ago?’ ”

He also found it funny because by that time, he knew there was a chance that he could be their manager in 2007.

“I was thinking that there was a chance that I could wind up here managing at that point,” Acta said. “I knew then that I was going to interview here. They are yelling at me and little did they know that I could wind up managing their team.”

But Acta wasn’t offended by the razzing.

“When you coach third base and go on the road, you expect some of that,” he said. “Compared to places like Philadelphia, it was nothing. They didn’t get vulgar or offensive, but they really were on me.”

Now, though, Krimm and Hammerly feel pretty bad about being so hard on Acta, since he is now their guy as manager of the Nationals.

“When we found out he was going to be the manager, we figured we needed to apologize to him and let him know that we are his biggest fans now and are very glad that he is here with us now,” Krimm said.

So they want to invite Acta to the cigar shop for a peace offering.

“I want Manny to come here to smoke a peace cigar,” Krimm said. “We have old peace pipes in here and would bust out a peace pipe to smoke with him if he wants.”

And they plan on carrying on their razzing, but now to support Acta, not to torture him, and continue to give opposing third base coaches fits.

“We will be out there now for him,” Hammerly said.

Acta has accepted the invitation.

“I’ll go, sure I’ll go,” he said. “But I’ve got a couple of friends who coach third base, so I have to tell them to ease up on those guys.”

Want more Nats? Check out Nats Home Plate.

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