Acta busy on first day
New manager excited as Spring Training kicks off season
VIERA, Fla. -- Manny Acta walked into his dream job on Tuesday morning at Space Coast Stadium. It marked his first day as manager of the Nationals. He walked into his office around 9 ET and saw a nice candy basket from the Lerner family, who hired Acta to become the team's second manager.
Even though it's his first managerial stint in the big leagues, Acta is acting like he has been on the job for years. After talking to catcher Brian Schneider and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman in the coaches' conference room, Acta is all business.
Acta had a 10 a.m. meeting with the entire coaching staff, including the Spring Training instructors, and it lasted 3 1/2 hours. With 71 players expected to be in camp by the end of the week, Acta wanted to make sure that Spring Training was organized.
Acta also talked about having enthusiasm on the job, the coaches' role on the team, getting the pitching staff together and improving the defense. Lack of pitching and defense are reasons the Nationals finished in fifth place in 2006.
"The number one goal, when you run a camp like this, is keep everything crisp," said third-base coach Tim Tolman, who will be coordinating Spring Training. "You have to keep guys moving and have the emphasis of doing things right. We want to achieve a goal on each and every drill that we do."
Acta added that the meeting was an overview of what is to come. "It was the state of the organization, how bright the future is going to be here, what the approach we are going to take with [the players], how we want the camp to run and the responsibility we want from each of them," Acta said. "When it's [time for the players] to meet with the coaches, everybody will know what we are talking about."
The Nationals are looking for four starters to join John Patterson in the rotation. There are at least 12 pitchers competing for those jobs and Acta made it known the kind of pitchers he is looking for.
"We are looking for the people that are going to help us win for the long run," Acta said. "So if you are here with the frame of mind that, 'I'm here because I have a chance to make the big-league club,' and you don't bring to the table what we are looking for, you are not going to be here."
Right-hander Tim Redding, who is one of the 12 candidates, is one pitcher who understands that Acta means business when it comes to putting a pitching staff together. Redding pitched for Acta for several seasons when both were in the Astros' Minor League system. In fact, in 2000, Redding was pitching for Acta at Class A Kissimmee when he won the Florida State League Most Valuable Pitcher award.
"[Acta] is a very compassionate, fiery guy," Redding said. "He wants to win just like anybody else in this level. He is not afraid to take chances, and you have to take chances to win ballgames.
Acta believes the defense will be fixed because he has solid people up the middle with Nook Logan in center field, Cristian Guzman at shortstop, Felipe Lopez at second base and Brian Schneider behind the plate.
Last season, the Nationals had problems catching the ball from Spring Training to the last day of the season. They committed a Major League-leading 131 errors.
"The challenge here is to get back where we were defensively a few years ago," Acta said. "I don't see a reason why not. There is no reason why we should be dead last in defense. That's not going to happen."
Even though there are question marks about the Nationals, don't ask Acta to be realistic about the team's chances of winning. Acta says expect the Nationals to be one of the biggest surprises of 2007.
"I have to deliver the message that it gets better here and be optimistic," he said. "I really don't want to be a realist when I'm in this position. I'd rather be an optimist."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.