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Published: Saturday, 2/27/2010

Acta enthused on first day with Cleveland

ASSOCIATED PRESS

GOODYEAR, Ariz. - For his first performance, Manny Acta rolled out the good material.

Acta addressed the Cleveland Indians as their manager for the first time yesterday, ahead of the first full-squad workout of spring training.

How rousing was his talk?

"I saved my Vincente Lombardo speech," Acta said with a laugh.

Acta, hired as manager on Oct. 25, may have had football coach Vince Lombardi on his mind. Or maybe John Wooden, the famed basketball coach, who is one of Acta's role models when it comes to being a leader.

If the preseason predictions are correct - the Indians picked by many to finish near the bottom of the American League Central - Acta will need to give an inspirational talk from time to time.

"We all respect [the media's] opinion, we just don't have to believe it," Acta said. "We're making these guys believe they can win, and why not? That's the approach we're taking."

The Indians have fallen dramatically since 2007 when they won the division and came within a game of reaching the World

Series.

Cleveland has since traded CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez, as well as several other front line players, in cost-cutting moves. It's no surprise the Indians lost 97 games and tied Kansas City for last place in 2009.

On a team that needs to hear uplifting words, Acta's speech was a hit in the clubhouse.

"He's very enthusiastic," pitcher Jake Westbrook said. "He believes in us. He said we should believe in ourselves and not think about the guys who aren't here anymore."

Designated hitter Travis Hafner said Acta's words got him fired up and will set the tone for camp, but tried to keep them in perspective.

"You don't run through a wall in baseball, you hit it over the wall," he joked.

Although most of the players have been in camp for nearly a week, yesterday was the first day the team took the fields as a group.

"It's a big day," Acta said.

"Everybody's excited."

No one was as excited as Acta. He hit groundballs to infielders, ran from field to field, shouted encouragement, corrected mistakes and talked to anyone who would listen.

"I just don't like to be standing behind the batting cage," he said.

Having spent all of his managerial and coaching career in the National League, Acta is going through his own period of adjustment. He coached for Montreal and the New York Mets before

being named manager of the Washington Nationals for the 2007 season. Acta was fired last July

after compiling a 158-252 record.

Acta's knowledge of his new players has come from staff meetings and reading reports, but he ultimately wants to draw his own conclusions.

"I'm not just going to rely on what I've heard," he said. "That's what spring training is for."

NOTES: Acta said he had surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder in September, but hopes he can throw batting practice next month. ... LHP Jeremy Sowers (sore shoulder) threw a bullpen session. Acta hopes Sowers will be able to pitch in a game before camp breaks. It's likely he will start the season on the DL. ... 1B-OF Matt LaPorta, who had toe and hip operations in the offseason, thinks he'll be ready to play in an exhibition game around March 10, five days after the opener.



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