BROADVIEW HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Before asking a question of Manny Acta at a Town Hall session Monday night, an Indians season-ticket holder took his moment at the microphone to start an ovation for the new Tribe skipper. Acta, of course, has yet to win a game with the Indians, so the applause might have been a bit premature, as Acta himself acknowledge. "We'll see about that ovation," Acta joked, "in September."
Still, it was clear right then that personality has already won Acta some points in these parts. And in this question-and-answer session at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School, in front of about 500 fans and the SportsTime Ohio cameras, the Indians put that personality on display with the intent of reaching out to their fans. Acta was here to generate interest in the 2010 season and to field queries from fans about a variety of topics, both broad and direct. The results will be aired on STO next week. What the fans saw was what the Indians saw last fall, when they considered dozens of candidates for their managerial vacancy and landed on Acta, the owner of a 158-252 career managerial record with the Nationals. While the jury is still out as to whether Acta can be successful at this level and in this "reloading" setting in which the Indians are operating, his engaging style of communication and his knowledge about the game in its current state are already winning some folks over. The applause proved as much. So, what exactly is Acta saying that has some fans feeling optimistic about a ballclub that finished in a tie for last place in the AL Central and traded away its two biggest stars last season? Well, for one, Acta has demonstrated obvious enthusiasm for the players coming down the pipeline. He name-drops prospects as if he's moonlighting as an editor of Baseball America. Mere minutes into Monday's event, he was talking up the likes of Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall and Nick Hagadone, none of whom will be on the Tribe's Opening Day roster, but each of whom could become cornerstone players down the road. "Fans don't know about these guys because they haven't been interviewed for the job here," Acta joked. "I did my homework. When I meet these guys, I tell them, 'I made my decision [to come to Cleveland] based on you guys.' We have a chance to put a good club together like we had in the '90s." But once that club is assembled, what kind of manager is Acta? One season-ticket holder inquired about Acta's policy on bunting, noting that his predecessor, Eric Wedge, tended to avoid the tactic. This would have been an opportunity for Acta to simply tell the fan what he wanted to hear, but instead he turned the tables on him, asking him if he would let one of his best hitters bunt with a man on first and none out in order to get the runner into scoring position. The fan answered in the affirmative, and Acta quickly told him he was wrong, before launching into his sabermetric-aided beliefs. He said unless the hitter in question is batting below .240, the stats suggest that you're better off letting the hitter swing away. "People think it's the absolute right thing to bunt [in that situation]," Acta said, "but you need to check the stats. Back in the day, we didn't have computers, we didn't have Twitter, we didn't have Facebook. They've come up with some things that make you open your eyes and not play like Casey Stengel used to play." When it comes to his philosophy on the basepaths, Acta said he's a "common-sense guy" who will base his tactics on his personnel. And he believes he has the personnel to be aggressive. "We have a chance to be not a normal AL club," he said. "We have guys like [Grady] Sizemore, [Asdrubal] Cabrera, [Trevor] Crowe and [Shin-Soo] Choo. We have a team that can run and run effectively." Acta plans to be equally aggressive in getting the Indians to avoid one of the slow starts that often plagued the teams managed by Wedge. "We have to make sure our guys are aware of what's going on," Acta said. "Even in Spring Training, we need to stress that winning is important. I feel better going to the showers after we win, even if it's an exhibition." Once the cameras clicked off, Acta didn't want to leave. He continued to field questions and sign autographs for those who stuck around. One fan asked him if his bilingual abilities will help him deal with the Latin players. Acta revealed that sometimes Latin players are misunderstood. They are groomed in their culture to put their head down when being spoken to by an elder, and this courtesy is often misinterpreted as disrespect. "It's a totally different culture," he said. "I know that. I'm not going to take it personally, because that's the way we were taught. But we have to keep encouraging these guys to adjust to our culture. That's the role we play." And in a long season -- the kind of season the Indians could indeed have in 2010 -- Acta said it's important that he not get overly emotional. "We are trained to not let too many things stop us from sleeping," he said. "It's a 162-game season. You can drop a ball through your legs and take a beating. But in baseball, the very next day you can get a game-winning hit. If you do have things that keep you up at night every night, you'll die. There are worries, obviously. Like our starting rotation. But it's not like you're not going to sleep. You're hoping these guys are going to get better, and I always hope for the best." The fans here hope for the best, too, of course. And they seemed quick to take the optimistic Acta at his word. One fan remarked, "I'm glad we beat the Astros to the punch and hired you," and Acta was once again quick with a quip. "September," he said with a smile.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.