By Rich Coutinho
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Everything about Terry Collins is old school. He respects the game and understands how it should be played while demanding passion and effort from his players. He also knows that what goes on inside a baseball clubhouse has an effect of how a team plays day in and day out during the marathon that is a baseball season. More importantly, Terry Collins demands that effort from himself and he knows what the “experts” say about the NL East. But the Met manager has a different take.
“I know that there are quality teams in this division but I also know that we are much improved for a number of reasons” says Collins. “First of all, we have a healthy Ike Davis and will also get a full season from David Wright. Our bullpen was reinforced with the acquisitions of Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, and Ramon Ramirez and that was a hot button issue for us late last year. And, oh by the way, we get Johan Santana back as well. So, from my perspective, why not us?”
And Terry Collins has a point when you stop and think that the Mets overachieved in the first half of last season despite missing the three players mentioned above. The addition of a second wild card team creates another opportunity for every National League club and that only fortifies Collin’s position of “Why Not Us?”
When he took the job last year, the Mets were in need of a culture change and anyone who covers the Mets could see that he planted the seeds for that in spring training and once again, this year, he has fostered an atmosphere where honest and open dialogues between coaches and players are commonplace. “Terry has a passion for the game and you have to respect that” says Met third baseman David Wright. “From the first day of spring training, he has reiterated that every single one of us can play better and that we should expect to be successful because despite what outsiders might think, we have the pieces in here to win.” But Collins is not all about speeches and proclamations. In many ways, he knows fun is a big part of this game. And when you get past all of the money in the sport of baseball, players need to have fun in order to win and the Mets manager understands that. In what has now become an annual Spring Training Met ritual, the team has a few Bowling nights where players bond with coaches and vice versa. “These outings are fun”, says Collins, “And provide a night where we can enjoy being together, have a few laughs, and not taking ourselves so seriously.” Whether it is a night of bowling or playing video games, the point is nights like this gets the communication going and that provides benefits that are sometimes hard to quantify.
“It is a funny thing about communication in baseball”, continues Terry Collins, “In that most people believe it means a manager telling a player what to do and handing out discipline. That is certainly part of it but listening to your players is important as well and that gets an honest dialogue going which is important.” When you walk around the Met clubhouse, you hear from the Mets players that Terry Collins will always tell them the truth. There is no tap dancing around tough issues, there is no putting off intense conversations and every single player knows where he stands with him. There are managers in this sport who send messages via the media but Terry Collins does not play that game. If he tells the beat reporters something you can rest assured he has already had a conversation with the individual and that is comforting to a player no matter whether the message is positive or if they are talking about an area of their game that needs to be developed.
As to what the experts think about the Met chances in 2012, Terry Collins knows nothing is won in the off-season. “I’ve been around teams that were expected to do well and did not and around teams that surprised the experts. And I can tell we fit the profile of those teams that could surprise. Our best pitcher alone could change the equation because we all know what Johan Santana is capable of and having an ace like that at the top of your rotation lifts the entire team”, says Collins. And Santana has very much looked like the vintage Johan in spring training throwing all of his pitches with the velocity and command he will need to keep NL hitters off stride.
But Collins also thinks the revamped bullpen will play a huge role in the fortunes of the 2012 Mets. “We lost a ton of games in the second half of the season last year”, says the Mets fiery manager, “And although there was no single reason for it, our inability to save games was a big reason why our record slipped in the last 8 weeks of the season. Sandy Alderson addressed that need and all of the guys we brought in will improve that area big-time for us.”
The other thing that really excites Terry Collins about the 2012 Mets is the development of his young players that got significant playing time in 2011—guys like Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy. Duda put on a daily show for the Met fans in Port St. Lucie with batting practice sessions that caught everyone’s eye including the manager. “The good thing about last year is that guys like Lucas Duda got valuable playing time and made the most out of it” says Collins. “When I look at a guy like him, I think the sky is the limit. We all know he has enormous power but his hands are really quick which helps him use the whole field. He is also very patient at the plate and knows how to work counts. We got a small taste in the second half of last year but I believe he has a very high ceiling.”
Daniel Murphy’s importance to the Mets as an accomplished hitter has become apparent in the past year but he must also become a better ballplayer defensively and avoid the injuries that have kept him off the field. “Daniel Murphy is a throw-back player who loves playing the game”, says Collins, “And I really believe he has great leadership qualities as well. But more importantly, what drives him beyond anything is that he wants to win. For Murph, it is all about the team and despite the fact he is still a relatively young player, his teammates respond to that fire and passion. All winning teams need players like that. Sure, his defense needs to become more consistent and my belief is that it will.”
Murphy also feels that playing for Terry Collins has made him a better player because of the way the Mets manager communicates with him. “Sometimes we forget there were a bunch of second basemen competing for a job here last year”, remembers Murphy, “And I did not get the job. But Terry was so honest about the competition and when I did not get it, he asked me to just be a little patient. As it turned out, I got more playing time than I could have ever imagined and had my best year at the plate until I got hurt late in the season. Terry has made me a better player because he believes in me but also told me the truth. And with him if you perform, he rewards you with more playing time. That is all you can ask from a manager.”
For Met fans, they have a manager in the dugout that will demand that his team will play the game the right way. “Our fans deserve a winner and I take that home with me every night” says Collins. “What we have tried to do is stress fundamentals because that is where it all starts. That is why I believe in taking infield practice prior to a game because it is a great preamble to playing in the game. I also want this team to be able to build runs by using everything in our arsenal—the stolen base, the hit and run, and capitalizing when our opponents make a mistake. These all sound like little things but they add up in a hurry.”
The script for the 2012 Mets has yet to be written but if Terry Collins has anything to say about it, it will look far different from the perception of the team that is out there. It might be wise not to bet against an old school manager who has a roster of players out to prove the baseball skeptics wrong. And if they do, you can be assured they will do it the right way.
Why not them? Leave a comment below.