- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

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Manny Acta is three weeks into his first spring training as manager of the Washington Nationals and seems to have found his comfort zone. Acta’s only 38 years old but he spent nearly 20 years in the minor leagues working his way up the coaching ladder. So this isn’t really anything new for him.

The Times’ Mark Zuckerman sat down with Acta for a few minutes this week and attempted to delve into the manager’s psyche …

Q: Do you ever have to remind yourself that you’re a major-league manager now?

A: No, not anymore. I think the busy schedule and everything that comes with it lets me know every single day.

Q: So you haven’t ever woken up in the middle of the night and thought, “I’m still a third base coach?”

A: No, because now — like you guys asked me before — all I’m thinking about is baseball. I’m thinking about the next day and two days ahead, thinking about lineups and stuff like that. When you’re coaching, you’re really not thinking about lineups and stuff.

Q: Will you ever stop hitting fungoes and throwing BP?

A: Not until I’m completely unable to do it. I’m too young to stop doing that. I think I use that as part of keeping me in shape, too.

Q: Has anything about managing surprised you so far?

A: No, because that’s what I’ve done most of my life. It’s a little different. There’s more at stake here. And obviously, dealing with the press, it’s a different ballgame at this level. But other than that, it’s the same thing. Try to keep people happy. Some people are not going to be happy, and you’ve got to deal with it.

Q: Every time we’ve seen you and dealt with you, you’ve been upbeat and positive. Should we expect at some point that you’re going to snap at us if someone asks you a question you don’t like?

A: [Laughing]. No. You know what I do to act properly with you guys? I try to stay away most of the time from reading everything. That way, even if you wrote something bad about me, I can still say hello and goodbye to you the same way I do every single day.

Q: Have you thought about Opening Day yet and what that experience is going to be like?

A: That’s really going to be the jitters day, the real first-game managing thing. Spring training, we know what it’s all about. But Opening Day, I know that my whole country is going to be waiting and watching that day. And my family, too. That’s going to be a big day for me.

Q: That means a lot you, what it means in the Dominican?

A: Absolutely. It means a lot to me, because I’m just taking the torch from Felipe Alou. I want to make sure I become a good manager up here, so they can have a representative for years to come until somebody else comes up to join me.

Q: You said before the spring training opener that you had nightmares. Do you think you’ll have any others before Opening Day, and will they get any worse?

A: You know what I realized after the nightmares here [before the Nationals’ first workout]? You have a bench coach here in the big leagues. In the minor leagues and winter ball, you don’t have that. So I think between Pat Corrales and Tim Tolman, that will help me to not have those nightmares.

Q: So you’re not worried about not having a lineup card ready in time anymore?

A: Exactly. Because once you get up here, you make the lineup out, but you don’t write it down. Somebody else does it.

Q: You played basketball growing up in the Dominican. What position?

A: Shooting guard and small forward.

Q: Were you any good?

A: I was good. I mean, I wasn’t NCAA or NBA talent. But I was good in my area.

Q: Did you ever think about trying to make a career out of that?

A: Well, that was my thought at the beginning, up until my dad just flat-out stopped me. He asked me, “How many Dominicans are there in the NBA? And how many Dominican baseball players are in the major leagues?” That summed it up for me. There were no Dominicans in the NBA back then. And there was also the fact that he told me: “You’re 6-foot-2. You probably think you’re tall here in our neighborhood. But in the NBA, you’re a dwarf.” So that kind of did it for me.”

Q: So you didn’t want to try to become a groundbreaker, the first Dominican NBA player?

A: I didn’t think I had the skills to do it, either. I was good in my region, but not good enough to make it at that level, no.

Q: You’re a big “Law and Order” fan. Your cell phone ringtone is the theme song?

A: Oh, yeah, big time. That’s my favorite show.

Q: Who’s your favorite character?

A: Jack McCoy. He lays down the law, and I think he’s fair.

Q: Would you make a better cop or lawyer?

A: [Laughing]. Uh, I would say a cop. Because I’m not good at lying and fabricating stuff.

Q: And that’s what lawyers do?

A: Well, you know, in order to defend your clients, sometimes knowing that a guy’s guilty, you have to try to exploit every single little thing. You’re trying to let someone free who has committed a horrible thing. I don’t think I could do that.

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