Manny Acta is trying to make the most of his shelter-in-place situation that we are all seemingly living in during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Mariners’ third-base coach tries to exercise when he can, embraces time with his wife Cindy, and is “wearing out” Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. He’s also rediscovered his love of books, reading at least an hour each day. The current novel is an English translation of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez — a favorite author.
“This is helping me and telling me that I’m probably going to be OK when I retire,” he said.
But baseball is still the priority. Part of his daily work, as other Mariners coaches, is to check in on a specific group of players via Zoom or phone call. It’s a plan implemented by manager Scott Servais.
“It’s working great,” Acta said. “The main thing was Scott and our front office made us talk to them. There’s no such thing as just texting or talking to them through social media. I’m able to talk to these guys, find out how their families are doing, what they’re up to and what kind of physical shape they’re keeping themselves in, what have they heard, what have I heard.”
Acta, a native of the Dominican Republic, also is the vice-president and general manager of the Estrellas Orientales in the Dominican Winter League. He’s aware of the uncertainties facing Latin players in MLB organizations, particularly minor-leaguers.
“A lot of those guys had to go back home, which is probably a tougher situation than being here in the States,” he said.
For many players from Venezuela, they can’t return to their native country due to coronavirus concerns, as well as political and civil strife within the country. The Mariners have a handful of Venezuelan minor-league players who are being housed in Arizona. They can’t go to the team’s academy in the Dominican Republic, which is shut down, and the risk of returning home is too great.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Acta said of housing the players in Arizona. “Our organization is top-notch. We could have easily just said, ‘Hey, go home, we’re closing everything down and this is what we’re doing.’ Those kids could have been in a really tough spot just going back to Venezuela.”
That plight is why Acta kind of shrugs off recent comments made by some big-league players about not wanting to sequester themselves in Arizona hotels for four months as part of MLB’s possible plan to resume the season entirely in the Phoenix area. He understands their concerns, but …
“Almost every single one of the Latin American players and the foreign players that come over here to the States, they go through all of that in the minor leagues,” he said. “In my case, when I signed and came over here, my daughter was just born and I spent about probably 15 summers in a row without even seeing my daughter, and I feel guilty that I probably wasn’t able to be around enough for her. It’s not that I wanted to; it’s the situation.”
It’s something foreign-born players accept as part of chasing the MLB dream.
“They come here and play in the minor leagues, and they spend 6-8 months here and don’t see their mom and dad or they don’t see their kids,” Acta said. “There’s visa issues with travel. Also, if you’re playing in the minor leagues and you’re not making enough money to be able to fly over your mom and dad, you’re not going to be able to fly your kids.”
It’s a situation that is never experienced by many players.
“I hope in this situation a lot of guys get some empathy for those guys, especially when they’re in the minor leagues,” he said. “Because when you’re in the big leagues and you’re making enough money, it’s ‘OK. I can fly my mom and dad, I can fly my kids or whatever.’ “
Acta, who is in Florida, also is concerned about his home country.
“We can’t compare ourselves to the U.S. obviously,” he said. “They’re doing the best they can, getting help with ventilators and masks and the hospitals. Obviously, our health department is not up to U.S. standards, so you’re going to have some issues.”
But it’s also a problem at fundamental levels.
“The government has had a lot of problems with people not respecting the quarantine and curfew,” he said. “There are way too many people just not respecting it. It’s a country where a lot of people have to come out each day just to get their bread for tomorrow. It is easy for me to stay here, and hunker up with my family, buy groceries and not go out for 15 days. But you can’t ask people who live in poverty to close yourself in a house with six kids, not getting a paycheck and not having any food to eat. So they are having some issues, especially with the social distancing.”
And he said there’s an issue in grasping the danger of it all.
“A lot of them with their education level just don’t understand the severity of this virus and don’t believe in it, or because of the situation they’re in are just ignoring some of the stuff trying to get help,” he said. “That’s just making things worse. I’m afraid what could happen there the next couple weeks because a lot of people there don’t understand what asymptomatic means. They’ve worked so hard to try to educate people on this back home, but right now this is what we’re fighting. It’s being able to keep people home after the curfew, which is 5 o’clock in the afternoon.”
Acta is trying to be a presence via social media. He has recorded videos on his Instagram and Twitter and the Estrellas accounts, urging people to take the curfew and guidelines of trying to be safe and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 seriously.
“Just trying to educate people about what’s going on and how serious it is and let them know, yes, I have empathy for you that don’t have the money to go grocery shopping for 15 days and stay at home,” he said. “But also, I’m trying to let them know, just go out if it is a necessity. Just so many people are ignoring it, it’s going to make it really hard for the government to contain it if they don’t make a sacrifice themselves.”