Acta gets feet wet on first day
Upbeat manager keeps things moving at Nats camp
VIERA, Fla. -- When he was a Minor League manager in the Astros organization or leading a team in the Dominican Winter League, Manny Acta would fall asleep and have nightmares. In those dreams, he worried about not giving the lineup card to the umpires on time.
It got worse on Thursday. Several times, the new Nationals manager woke up in the middle of the night thinking that the electricity in his house went off, that his alarm clock stopped working and he was going to be late for the club's first workout.
Wake up, Manny, you were only dreaming.
"Once I [arrived at Space Coast Stadium], I felt normal," Acta said. "I'm into it again. You don't go through this when you are a coach. But when you are managing, whether it's Minor League, winter ball or here in the Major Leagues, you're going to have that nightmare. Everybody has to be nervous and have a few butterflies during their first day of anything. That's just normal. That's human nature."
The Nationals had their first workout under Acta without a glitch. The day started with a meeting with his coaching staff, and at 9 a.m. ET, Acta gave a pep talk to the pitchers and catchers. Acta is well aware that baseball observers are picking Washington to finish last in the Nationals League East because of a lack of starting pitching and the loss of free-agent outfielder Alfonso Soriano.
But Acta is making sure that the negative talk does not trickle down to his players. He believes the Nationals have a bright future, citing their numerous job opportunities in camp this season and their expected revenue increase with a new ballpark opening in 2008.
"He wants guys who believe we can win," said right-hander John Patterson. "He wants guys that will go out and give 100 percent and help this ball club. [Acta said], 'If you come in here just to be here and collect a paycheck, it's not the guy I want on this team.' I think he made that very clear this morning."
"I'm trying to rally my guys and show to them all of the opportunities are here," Acta said. "Not only that, I told them, 'If you are not excited being here -- not only for this year, but for the future, the bright future we have with the new stadium and this new ownership -- there is something wrong with them.'"
About 30 minutes after his pep talk, Acta and his players went to the Carl Barger complex, and the workout was the antithesis of a typical one run by former manager Frank Robinson.
Robinson was a laid-back skipper who allowed his coaches to perform their duties. Acta, on the other hand, was involved in every phase of the workout. He was on Field No. 4 observing pitchers as they stretched and played catch.
About 30 minutes later, Acta watched pitching coach Randy St. Claire give the pitchers instructions on how they should do their work, and he also talked to Patterson at the same time. After it ended, Acta noticed that the pitchers started walking to their next station.
"Let's start hustling," the skipper said.
The pitchers suddenly started jogging to the next field to perform their duties.
"It's a crisp Spring Training," Acta said. "Walking is not allowed. We are jogging from station to station just to keep things going. There is no walking in baseball."
After watching some of the pitchers field their position, Acta then jogged to the bullpen to observe as some of the pitchers threw from the mound. After greeting general manager Jim Bowden and assistant general manager Bob Boone, Acta's eyes were on Matt Chico, Chris Schroder and Levale Speigner. All three pitchers have been highly touted in the organization.
Acta even joked with bullpen catcher Julian Martinez in Spanish, telling him that he looks like Wiki Gonzalez.
Acta then headed to Field No. 2 to watch the pitchers cover first base in pitchers fielding practice, followed by some time spent observing catchers Brian Schneider and Jesus Flores as they took batting practice.
Although he kept himself busy, Acta felt helpless. As a third-base coach with the Expos and Mets the past five years, he is used to throwing batting practice and hitting fungoes during the first day of workouts. On this day, he was walking with a glove and fungo bat for most of the workout.
"I can't wait for the hitters to come in, so I can throw BP or hit fungoes," Acta said. "It's a new thing for me. I feel bad that I rode in a golf cart [to the Carl Barger] complex. I have to adjust to it, I guess. I've been doing it for so long. I was like, 'Who am I going to hit fungoes to?' There are no infielders here. It's a habit I have to break. I'll get out there when the position players get here."
As for the pitchers and catchers, they came away impressed with how smoothly the opening day of workouts went.
"It was a great day," Patterson said "We went through our work really fast, quick. It was good work. We were not standing around a lot, which is great. That's what the players complain about most in Spring Training, which is standing around. Obviously, we are not going to be doing too much of that in this camp. I thought it was a great first day."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.