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Nats build foundation with Suns

January 26, 2007|by BOB PARASILITI

When the Washington Nationals hired Manny Acta as their new manager, they may not have realized just how complete a package they were getting.

The team was looking for a hard-working, enthusiastic young leader to inspire players while taking on the tedious construction process of rebuilding a team from the ground up.

The Nationals got that and then some with Acta.

Meanwhile, if Washington was looking for a slogan for these times ahead, the promotions department might want to stop by the manager's office for a suggestion.

"Attitude is equal to altitude in life," Acta said Thursday before about 75 fans during the Nationals winter caravan stop at the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center in Hagerstown.

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Acta was referring to the game on the field, but the statement appropriately summed up what's ahead for the Nationals.

A new attitude was layered throughout this stop on a weeklong promotional tour by the Nationals, who are aiming high as they rebuild a last-place major league team with their sights on the opening of a new stadium in 2008.

Meanwhile, Thursday's stop was also Washington's way to put its new ownership group out in the public while cultivating the roots of the system which run through Hagerstown since the Suns signed a two-year deal to be the Nationals' Single A affiliate in the South Atlantic League.

"We appreciate the opportunity to visit with you. This is very important to us," said Al Maldon, the team's senior vice president for external affairs and Nationals Foundation president. "We set out to take advantage of the opportunity to get out and connect with the fans. The Lerner family (owners of the Nationals) wants to develop a community base, not only in Washington but in the region. We are very excited about our relationship with the Suns."

Hagerstown will be the starting point for what the Nationals hope will be a bright future for the franchise, the first full-season stop for the team's young prospects before they eventually make it to Washington.

"You guys are kind of lucky now," Acta said. "We have got some good players coming up out of the 2006 draft and then in 2007, we will get more. Hagerstown is in for a treat with the Washington Nationals."

Pitcher Colton Willems and outfielder Chris Marrero, Washington's two first-round picks in the 2006 draft are scheduled to start the 2007 season in Hagerstown. The Nationals have received extra early-round compensation picks for losing Alfonso Soriano to the Chicago Cubs and Jose Guillen to the Los Angeles Angels via free agency, which will help stockpile the system.

While those players mature, Acta will be in the process of piecing together a team that struggled last season. When spring training for pitchers and catchers starts on Feb. 13, everything will be wide open.

"We plan to do things the right way. We are going to build from the farm system. Hagerstown will be part of it," Acta said. "We aren't going to have the highest payroll or have the most superstars, but we are going to go out there with the right attitude to try and win. We are going to be pushing the pedal to the metal until we do it and Hagerstown will be a big part of it."

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