Manny Acta, Positivity and Patience
Sunday night was Manny Acta Bobblehead Night at Shirley Povich Field, hosted by the Bethesda Big Train. I followed him around for two hours and watched. A few observations.
"I enjoy you, Manny," Bruce Artim told Acta near the end of one of the longest marathon autograph sessions I've ever viewed. "You're doing a really good job. The players are still playing hard for you. Stick with it. I hope they stick with you."
"I hope so too," Acta said. "I don't want to go anywhere."
"You're doing a heck of a job," Artim continued. "I hope the upstairs people know that."
"I hope so too," Acta cracked. "Thanks for the support."
That's what it was, for two hours. One person after another, praising Acta, shaking hands, sharing quips. I didn't hear any critics. And sure, this was a self-selecting group. You had to go to the game, likely to get an Acta bobblehead. Then you had to wait in line for his autograph. It was the most beautiful night for baseball in world history, at a little fairy tale of a park in North Bethesda. But still:
* "Keep up the good work!" said Eric Yaffe, owner of an Auntie Anne's pretzel franchise, as he handed Manny a cinnamon sugar.
* "Good job, you keep it up!" one of the first fans in line said.
* "I love what you're doing, hope you can stick around," Bryan Stabbe told Acta. "Me too," the manager responded. "I love it here." ("I think it'd be a real shame to lose him," Stabbe later told me.)
* "Hang in there Manny, I think you do a great job....We're rooting for you here, trust me....Beat the Red Sox and the Orioles and it'll make us happy the rest of the year...."....on and on and on and on.
* "Can I have a hug?" asked Mary, a fan who posts online under the name ActaManiac and who was wearing an Acta jersey. "Finally, someone not wearing a Zimmerman jersey," Acta said when he saw her.
Why the hug? Everyone supports the players, she said. She think he's a good person, always positive, always faces the music, always puts on a good face. Plus, she thinks he's hot.
"I couldn't help it, I had to," she said. "He's a great hugger."
Why the love? I mean, this team's record is wretched, almost historically wretched, and fans were congratulating him on a job well done, offering him their very best. Is Manny Acta the most popular manager of a .300 team in Major League history? I asked him.
"These fans have been very supportive from Day 1," he said. "I really do think that they understand what's being done here. Obviously there are people that want to be rebuilding and winning at the same time, which is kind of tough to do. But most of the fans here are supportive and know what we're doing and that we're doing our best, and they've been great and I'm thankful for it. So what can I do? What can I say? I try to treat people the way they treat me, and I guess the fans have responded. Maybe they just like my hat, like you're saying."
I only have one setting: bad mood. If someone told me I won a Pulitzer, I'd be ticked off over the pressure to repeat. But not everyone is like that.
Manny's sister, Anayma, was there, helping sell t-shirts to raise money for the ImpACTA Kids Foundation. I'm pretty sure she only has one facial expression: toddler-in-a-swimming-pool smile. I asked her whether she had ever seen her brother in a bad mood.
"No way....how?" she replied. "He's all the time positive, with everything. I'm pretty thankful for God that's the way he is. We're so blessed, we have to be positive. The last week, when everybody was going crazy [over the firing rumors], we were just like, 'We're too blessed to be stressed.' You can't sit down and cry; that's not how we are. If you are not positive, you can't reach your goals."
That's not how I look at life, but I guess it runs in the family. Manny's wife, Cindy, was also at the game. She just drove up from Florida last Thursday. She said what we all have been thinking: that yes, of course, rumors about his job security do not make Manny Acta grin with joy 24 hours a day. They talk after games, although she usually falls asleep before he gets home. Later, she asks him questions; why he took out a pitcher when he did, or why he left someone in. He always has an explanation--"he knows what he's doing," she said--and the explanations always sound reasonable. But still, those rumors?
"It just weighs heavy," she said. "He wants to be a part of this. He wants to be part of the growth. He doesn't come home and start throwing things and yelling and being upset, but you can tell. He tries to be even-keel, but you can tell when he's unhappy and when he's happy, because he cares. I don't know how to say it, but he cares. He loves it here. He doesn't want to leave. But that's part of baseball. He won't be the first, he won't be the last, but he doesn't want to leave. He wants to be here and be part of the solution."
She wasn't talking to get quoted. She was just talking. You hear that, and you remember you said the guy should be canned, and you think your own arteries must be filled with rancid mayonnaise. I'm not the only one, either; the man has something in person that doesn't transmit through screens. Here's how one blogger put it:
Manny Acta has a powerful presence in person that doesn't come across on TV. What might seem like placid lifelessness on TV is something else in person. I'm not going to say it's a smoldering intensity exactly, but it's different. Hard to explain, but it's real.
But still, the question remains, does Acta get mad? I mean, surely, once in a while, he gets blindingly, hair-pullingly, chest-bellowingly mad.
"Mad?" Cindy asked. She was thinking hard. She was trying.
"He gets mad because I didn't put my CDs back in the right order," she said with a laugh. "It wasn't mad, it was just, 'Why does it have to be like that?' "
Clothes too. Everything's neatly folded in his closet. Every item has its own place. Everything is in order, nothing strewn about.
"THAT will get me going," Manny agreed. "Because I tend to be kind of organized, when it comes down to the DVDs and movies. And I just get kind of tired of rearranging them."
"And I'm like, 'Well, why do you put your dishes in the sink and I have to put them in the dishwasher,' " Cindy countered.
So that's what makes Manny Acta mad. And look, I'm kind of joking, because obviously he gets mad. He gets mad when an outfielder misses the cut-off man, just like you do.
"I get mad like everybody else, I just don't show it on cameras," he said. "If I feel I have to kick something around or yell and scream, I do it inside the clubhouse, when the cameras are not there. I don't think people need to suffer what I'm suffering, especially when I get off the field. When I'm not on the field, I don't take baseball to my house, to my family, to my wife and daughter, to my sister."
Acta left home for the ballpark at 8:30 in the morning yesterday. He was there all day. His team crumbled with a sweep on the line. He had to answer questions about his job security again. Then he drove home, picked up his family, drove to Shirley Povich for no compensation other than one or two bobbleheads of himself, which fans said looked more like Julian Tavarez.
He was supposed to throw out the first pitch, but really it was the 10th pitch. First there was Nicholas, 9, a birthday boy from Chevy Chase Elementary. Then a representative of Bethesda Cares. Someone from North Bethesda United Methodist. Someone from the Forest Glen Children's Association. Phil Wood. Jim Hartley. I lost count. somewhere in there. Finally Manny took the mound.
"It's not the community's fault, whatever goes on on the field," he told the crowd. "We have to give back to our community. And if that makes people happy, that's an easy job for me."
I left at around 9:30, and he was still hanging out with fans, telling jokes, like to the kid wearing an Olney Pirates t-shirt. "Is that the Buster Olney team?" Acta asked. The kid stared at him.
Today's an off day, but Acta was headed to the Park to work out with Josh Willingham, back from bereavement leave, and to stop in on a birthday party for a clubhouse attendant.
"Thank you," he told the crowd during a later interview with the PA announcer. "Just keep playing baseball around here."
I"m telling you, if baseball hadn't existed, someone would have invented it last night. And they would have decided to play the Macarena and Sweet Caroline during the game. And they would have put the wife of the big-league manager behind the grandstand, next to the pizza stand, talking about how she listens in to the radio broadcasts on XM to see what the local fans think of her husband, whether they still like him, and to say stuff like this:
"We don't take it for granted. We think it's cool. We just soak it all in, appreciate it all."
For the record, Cindy Acta said her husband spends any downtime he has on the road shopping for clothes. He's big into TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, and the like.
He also was showing off another of his striking hats yesterday. Everyone liked it but his wife. She still didn't think it worked. I asked if it came from Marshalls.
"Burlington Coat Factory," he said.
June 22, 2009; 5:19 PM ET
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