"He had a book called 'Basic English,'" Acta remembered. "It was 800 words to help you communicate. That's the book he used to learn English, and I ended up using the same book."
Now, Acta is fluent in two languages, and Indians general manager Mark Shapiro considers him an "elite communicator" who is ready to guide the Tribe through a difficult rebuilding process.
Acta, formally introduced as the Indians' new manager at a press conference at Progressive Field on Monday, had a chance to show off those communication skills to the local media. And in an hour-long series of interviews in front of the cameras and tape recorders and on the local radio, Acta came across sharp-minded, quick-witted and, above all else, ready to lead.
Less than two days after agreeing to a three-year contract with a club option for 2013, Acta said he plans to spend the offseason getting to know the organization's players, inside and out.
"When I'm in, I'm in all the way," Acta said. "Minor Leagues, Winter Leagues, Arizona Fall League. I have nothing else to do. My only hobby is to play golf, and I'm not any good at it, so why would I be out there?"
It's no secret that some Tribe fans are wondering what, exactly, Acta is doing here.
This is, after all, the same Acta who was dismissed by the Nationals in July, after the Nats began the season with a 26-61 record. He's the same Acta who compiled a .385 winning percentage (158-252) -- the fourth-lowest winning percentage among managers with at least two years of experience over the last 50 years.
Acta, in short, is not the big-name skipper so many fans wanted to replace the dismissed Eric Wedge.
He knows this, and he intends to fix it over time.
"If you give people the opportunity to choose between, say, Joe Torre after his first three years with the Mets or the Joe Torre now, I believe everyone would pick the one from now," Acta said. "I think we have to look back and know that not everybody who is a big shot now was a big shot when they started. I think big shots are just little shots who keep shooting, and I'm not willing to quit shooting until I become a big shot."
The Indians weren't necessarily looking for a big shot. They were open-minded about this hire, and their process to find the right man -- or, more accurately, the write Manny -- for the job was, in their view, exhaustive. The Tribe compiled a list of about 35 candidates, had two-hour phone interviews with around 10 candidates and had Acta, former Mets and Rangers manager Bobby Valentine and Triple-A Columbus manager Torey Lovullo come to Cleveland for a formal interview.
As the Indians were attempting to arrange a formal sitdown with Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly, the Astros altered the Tribe's timetable by offering Acta a two-year contract with an option for a third on Saturday. At that point, Acta wasn't sure if the Indians, who had him in town on Oct. 20, would make him an offer.
"These people over here are very good poker players," he said. "I had no idea how much interest there was in me."
The Indians showed their cards by countering the Astros' offer with the three-year contract, and Acta, who spent 16 years in the Astros' Minor League system as a player and manager, had to choose between the team that groomed him and the team that made him a more attractive proposal.
Acta went with the Tribe, informing both teams of his decision on Saturday night. The deal was announced Sunday afternoon.
"Every decision in life is tough," Acta said. "I wanted to come to a place where I can grow with the front office and the good group of young, talented players we have here, and become good for a long time. ... I consider myself a blessed human being. Both jobs were offered. It was a very tough day for me, emotionally. But that being said, you have to do what's best. And I felt that Cleveland was best."
Shapiro said the Astros' offer to Acta sped up the decision-making process.
"All it did," Shapiro said, "was force us to vocalize with each other what we had already been thinking, which is that Manny is the right guy."
Why is he the right guy? The Indians obviously looked past Acta's record. They talked to people who had worked for him, worked with him, played for him and played against him at both the Minor and Major levels. And they liked what they heard about Acta, a former third-base coach with the Expos and Mets.
"It became evident to all of us throughout the process, as Manny's passion, presence, positive attitude and intelligence resonated with us, that he was the right man to lead us, going forward," Shapiro said. "His character, resourcefulness, desire to continue to learn and improve, ability to teach and bring the best out of people and players ... those traits and characteristics make us excited."
The 40-year-old Acta, who will wear No. 11 because his birthday is Jan. 11, showed his excitement for the job in the interview process by demonstrating his knowledge of the Indians' players and their situation. After the Nats dismissed Acta, he spent the second half watching the games of teams he thought might be looking to make a managerial move this offseason, and the Indians, who finished tied for last in the AL Central, intrigued him.
"I battled this organization for years in the Minor Leagues," Acta said. "This is a place where a lot of people want to be. In 2007, I worked as an analyst during the playoffs [for Spanish-language FOX Sports] and fell in love with the Indians back then."
These Indians, as currently constructed, are a long, long way from that division-champion '07 club that finished a win away from the World Series. Acta thinks the Indians will be markedly improved by the healthy returns of Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner and Jake Westbrook, but he knows this is a club that is going to need time to grow.
"I'm not blind," he said. "Help me if I am. But I think we have the components of a terrific lineup. We do have some work to do in our starting rotation, but that's what we're here for. We're here to take this team to the next level."
That won't happen overnight, and Acta won't win over the fan base until he's posting wins in the standings.
But on Monday, he introduced himself to those fans and communicated his vision clearly. And for now, that's a start.