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Alou, Acta meet again -- this time as GMs

Old pals pitted against each other in Dominican Winter League finals
MLB.com @JesseSanchezMLB

Two young, eager Dominican ballplayers, Moises Alou and Manny Acta, met for the first time almost 30 years ago on a back field in Florida.

Alou, then 20, was a hot prospect in the Pirates' organization, and the son of Dominican Republic legend Felipe Alou and nephew of Felipe's iconic brothers Matty and Jesus. At 18, Acta was a fringy prospect getting his first taste of professional baseball with the Astros during extended spring camp.

Two young, eager Dominican ballplayers, Moises Alou and Manny Acta, met for the first time almost 30 years ago on a back field in Florida.

Alou, then 20, was a hot prospect in the Pirates' organization, and the son of Dominican Republic legend Felipe Alou and nephew of Felipe's iconic brothers Matty and Jesus. At 18, Acta was a fringy prospect getting his first taste of professional baseball with the Astros during extended spring camp.

Their paths converged on the diamond a few times during the summer of 1987, but their careers would go in different directions. Three years later, in 1990, Alou was in the big leagues with the Pirates at age 23. He played in his first of six All-Star Games four years later and won a World Series with the Marlins in 1997. By 1991, Acta was in Major League Baseball's scouting school and on the cusp of launching a decade-long coaching and managing career in the Minors with the Astros that would pave the way for big league coaching jobs and eventually managerial jobs with the Nationals and the Indians.

This week, the old friends -- now known for their work away from the field -- meet again.

The Licey Tigres and the Escogido Leones began their best-of-nine series in the finals of the Dominican Winter League on Wednesday with a 5-1 victory by Escogido at Quisqueya Stadium in Santo Domingo. Acta, who is entering his first season as the third-base coach for the Mariners, is the general manager of the Licey Tigres, and Alou, who enters his second season as a special assistant to general manager A.J. Preller in San Diego, holds the same title with Escogido.

"To me, I feel like this is the most meaningful time to be in the finals, because I think we got here with less talent than before," Alou, 49, said. "A lot of people didn't expect us to be here, and to be here is huge for us. The guys and the coaching staff did a great job."

Alou's Escogido squad features outfielder Carlos Peguero and two recognizable Rafaels: veteran reliever Rafael Soriano and No. 2 Boston prospect Rafael Devers. The Escogido roster also includes right-handers Rafael Montero (Mets) and outfielders Leury Garcia (White Sox) and Moises Sierra (Marlins).

Acta's team features such familiar names as righties Yunesky Maya (Angels) and Jenrry Mejia (Mets), veteran lefty Wandy Rodriguez (Astros), and outfielders Rymer Liriano (Padres) and Domingo Santana (Astros).

The winner of the Licey-Escogido series will advance to the 2016 Caribbean Series next month in the Dominican Republic to face the Winter League champions from Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Ciego de Avila of Serie Nacional will represent Cuba as a special guest, and could be fortified with the additions of popular infielders Yulieski Gourriel and his brother Lourdes, along with sluggers Frederich Cepeda and Alfredo Despaigne as in previous years.

"Winter ball changes from year to year ... and this year, part of our strategy was to use guys that didn't have good seasons in the States and were able to play," said Acta, 47, who managed Alou and the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic in 2006. "Hector Noesi didn't have a good year with the White Sox. Maya needed to pitch, and with what happened to Mejia, he needed to pitch and he's been here since Day 1. We also had guys that needed at-bats. The Rymers, the Domingo Santanas who had good seasons in the Minors, but still needed to take the next step to get to the big leagues. Our rotation has also been solid, and we also held a camp before the season started so we could hit the ground running."

Outside of Cuba, the field has not been set. Mexicali defeated Mexicali, 8-1, in the first game of the Mexican finals on Wednesday. Mayaguez clinched a spot in the Puerto Rican final and will either play Caguas -- whose GM is former big leaguer Alex Cora -- or Santurce starting Friday. In Venezuela, the Navegantes del Magallanes and Tigres de Aragua will also begin the country's final Friday.

Together, Acta and Alou have long been two of the most popular figures in Latin America for their presence on the field. But they now are becoming known for their work behind the scenes. Acta has been to the Dominican Winter League finals twice in three years as the general manager. Alou has been to the finals five times in his seven years as the GM.

"I took the challenge to be the general manager here, because it's something I have not done before and I didn't want to be labeled as just an 'on-the-field guy,'" Acta said. "During the last three years, I've experienced the hiring process, the Draft and scouting. The analytics department, too. Now I feel like I enjoy those aspects of the front office and with all of my experience, I feel like down the road, I can help a team in the front office."

Alou said his duties with the Padres in the Dominican Republic include "pretty much everything." He watches the players at the club's Dominican academy and also keeps an eye on those in winter ball. Alou is also involved with evaluating domestic and international players. He attended the General Managers Meetings in November and baseball's Winter Meetings in December. He admits he's not certain how long he will continue in the current role, but he's still passionate about the game.

Alou is among a large crew of Latinos who currently work in special assistant roles, and that includes his father, who works in a similar role with the Giants. There also are such names as Pat Corrales and Jose Vizcaino, who are the special assistants to the GM with the Dodgers; Pedro Martinez, who is a special assistant to the GM in Boston; Ivan Rodriguez, who is a special assistant in Texas; Luis Gonzalez is with the D-backs; Marcos Paddy, the White Sox; Tony Perez, the Marlins; and Felix Francisco, the Royals.

There also are several Latinos in prominent international executive roles in front offices across the league, however, Kansas City's Rene Francisco, who also is from the Dominican Republic, is the only Latino assistant general manager, and Detroit's Al Avila, who was born in Cuba, is the only Latino general manager in baseball. Atlanta skipper Fredi Gonzalez is the only Latino manager in the game. Michael Hill is President of Baseball Operations for the Marlins. He is of Cuban descent and also speaks Spanish.

Acta, who became the fourth big league manager from the Dominican Republic when he took over the Nationals in 2006, says he is grateful for his opportunities in the game, but he still wants to see more Latinos land jobs on the field and in the front office in the big leagues. For now, he's focused on beating his old friend's team and advancing to the Caribbean Series.

"It's going to be an exciting one. It's going to be tough," Acta said. "We cruised to the finals and the Leones had to fight hard the last week, and a lot of time teams can carry that momentum. But we have good rotation and a good ballclub. We want the blue team to win."

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB.