By revitalizing fields, Acta opens doors
Group has turned tattered yards into an opportunity for many
CLEVELAND -- The reporters from the Washington newspapers wanted to visit Consuelo, in the San Pedro de Macoris region of the Dominican Republic.They wanted to see the area where Manny Acta, who had recently been named the manager of the Nationals, grew up and groomed his game. The place where baseball became his love and his life. Acta, proud of his roots and his standing as just the fourth Dominican-born manager in the big leagues, happily escorted the scribes that day late in 2006. But when the traveling party arrived to the location of the ballfields Acta grew up on, the manager's mood darkened.
Those fields that had once stood as a source of unfettered joy and a symbol of unending possibility were covered in grass up to Acta's knees. The spot from which the sound of the ball popping in the glove and jumping off the bat once emanated sat silent and empty. "I wanted to cry," Acta recalled. "It was a Saturday afternoon, and there wasn't one kid playing baseball. It was just a mess." That's the day the ImpACTA Kids Foundation was born. Acta, now the manager of the Indians, created the foundation as a means of opening opportunities to kids who might not otherwise have them. The sugar factories that had formerly been the lifeblood of his hometown had closed down, the fields were no longer maintained and the remaining options available to the kids in the area were potential hazards. "All those kids see is the drinking, the drugs and the violence in that little town," Acta said. "At that time, there wasn't one kid playing. So what were they doing? Obviously, not good things." Good things have come back to Consuelo, in the form of the baseball complex Acta's foundation is building on that very spot. Two fields are complete and a third is in the works, as is a multi-use facility that will house a public library and restrooms. The fields and the facility, which is slated to be in use by early February, are all named after the great players who hail from San Pedro de Macoris. The two completed fields bear the names of Sammy Sosa and Rico Carty, the third will honor Julio Franco and the library will be named after Alfredo Griffin. Those names are Acta's way of reminding the kids of Consuelo of their area's rich history. And the fields are his way of influencing the future. "When I was growing up," Acta said, "I challenged myself that if someday I was in a position where I could help my community, I wasn't going to change once fame and money showed up." Money comes to a big league manager from several directions. In addition to the salary provided by the team, there are endorsement deals from various athletic gear companies, as well as payments for regular radio and/or TV appearances. Acta earmarks much of that extra cash for his foundation, about 95 percent of which he said is financed out of his own pocket. The fields are hand-built, and the foundation has no employees -- just Acta and some friends and family members, doing what they can to serve the community. Acta singled out performance gear supplier Under Armour as particularly helpful in donating equipment from its warehouse each year. "We bring it down there and make a lot of people happy," Acta said. The complex began to take shape in the simplest of ways. Acta's first donation was a lawnmower shipped to Consuelo to tackle the grass. But now, it has grown to become a well-manicured spot for kids to learn and enjoy the game. The two fields currently in use are the home of Liga Manny Acta, a Little League program sponsored by Acta that is a separate entity from the charity foundation. Following next month's Winter Meetings, Acta will return to the Consuelo complex for an MLB Alumni Association clinic. Beyond the ballfields, Acta's foundation has extended its impact into the Cleveland community. In 2010, Acta's first year at the helm of the Tribe, ImpACTA awarded three $2,500 scholarships to three local high school seniors who had participated in an essay contest, compiled a grade-point average of at least 3.3 and enrolled in a four-year university with a plan to major in the field of science, technology or business. "I'm part of this community now," Acta said, "and our foundation is about making an impact on the lives of others, especially kids that are willing to give back to their community once they've achieved their goals." Inspired by that visit to his roots four years ago, Acta has achieved quite a bit with his foundation, which, for him, is a great source of pride. "I wanted to leave something in the community for when I'm long gone," he said. "The day I pass away, they can remember me not for winning the [Dominican Winter League] championship or managing in the World Baseball Classic or winning a World Series with the Cleveland Indians, hopefully, but because I left something there for the kids in the community." To learn more about Acta's foundation or to make a donation, visit the ImpACTA Kids website (http://www.impactakids.org/).