By Rich Coutinho
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I remember the first time I chatted with Terry Collins in mid-February in Port St Lucie like it was yesterday. We were walking around the backfields and I had the chance to have a five minute talk as we walked from Field #4 to Field #5 so we can watch some promising young Mets minor leaguers work out.
And he said something that puts everything in focus in regards to his managerial style. He said, “You know Rich, a lot of people think we won’t be too good this year and although I am not one to make predictions, I know two things: There is more talent here than most people think and more importantly, we will play the game the right way.”
After he talked a little about that, he asked about me and that was shocking that he would care but it really is the essence of Terry Collins. He cares deeply about two things: Getting to know people and winning. And he had so much to contend with in spring training. There was the Luis Castillo/Ollie Perez walk to the plank. There was the Carlos Beltran position switch. And there was, of course, the Madoff cloud.
Terry handled every situation with honesty and that made his relationship with the players, management and the media work. He also was quick to point out to his players that the word “can’t” often times becomes too easy of a crutch to use. Injuries, trades, and the financial atmosphere are all just speed bumps and you have 2 choices:ride the bump out or crash after you hit them.
Can’t is a word we all use far too often and if you simply substitute the word “can’t” with “won’t” you will quickly realize how counterproductive that is to the success of any individual. Go ahead try it. “I just can’t do that favor for you” sounds a lot worse when you say, “I just won’t do that favor for you.” Very early on in spring training Collins took can’t out of the Mets vocabulary and at the same time, noticed there were a bunch of players who were “Not Yet Ready For Prime Time” like Justin Turner, Dillon Gee, Lucas Duda, and Ruben Tejada who would prove to be very valuable insurance policies should any of the regulars either get hurt or not make the grade. And then there was the case of Daniel Murphy who really did not have a position but the manager knew he’d have to find him some at-bats.
Now the Mets sit six games back of the wild card leading Braves and most people simply think it is too tall an order for the Mets. But when you tell a group of athletes that has overachieved all year they can’t do something (there’s that word again) you’ve just described every great sports underdog story. Sure, it doesn’t make sense the Mets could catch the Braves but who thought this team would be 3 games over .500 in the last week of July missing David Wright and Ike Davis for big stretches of the season and starting the season at 5-13. But here they are — and guess what the Braves are coming in next weekend minus their big offensive bat (Brian McCann).
Many critics of the Mets say the math does not favor the Mets but consider this. I believe 88 wins will snare the wild card which is 14 games over .500. That means in the games final two months or so the Mets will need to play 11 games over.500. And guess what? Since that 5-13 start, the Mets have have played at–yes you guessed it–11 games over .500 over a 87 game stretch. Now lets call it what it is — a longshot. But before Met fans got immersed in the collapses of 2007 and 2008, this was a fan base that lived in the world of “Why not us?”
In 1969, they were 9.5 games out on August 17th and in 1973 they were in last place on September 1 and both years ended up in the World Series. In 1999, they were two games behind in wild card hunt with three to play and two short weeks later, were in the sport’s Final Four. Somewhere, the Mets fan has gotten beaten down and has forgotten that their history is not all bad.
Now this team does not have the talent that those teams possessed, but they are not the bumbling players the media would have you believe that they are. Because you see failure is always a more attractive story than success. Don’t get sucked it by that negativity. I have no idea where the ceiling is for this team but they are entertaining and easy to root for. And because of that very fact, the Mets have already tossed the ugly script the media gave us back in April into the garbage.