When Gary DiSarcina ran into Terry Collins at a minor-league instructional camp last month, the former Angels shortstop detected something different in his demeanor.

Although he insisted Collins deserved no blame for the clubhouse infighting that marred his last managing job in 1999, he could tell Collins has changed for the better in the 11 years since.

Fiery and intense have been the words most often associated with Collins as the Mets prepare to introduce him as their new manager this morning.

Yet the man with whom DiSarcina spent several days in Florida was a lot calmer and more patient than he was the last time he filled out lineup cards with the Angels.

"I don't want to say he mellowed out," said DiSarcina, a special assistant to the Angels general manager. "But you grow a little more patient in certain areas over time, and I definitely sensed that with him."

For three days they sat together in the stands, mostly talking baseball. It may have been their most time together since they shared a dugout in 1999, a season neither wants to remember.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The Angels were in contention for the division title at the All-Star break, but everything went downhill so quickly that by early September, Collins thought it was best for everyone that he resign. And this, mind you, was less than three months after he had received a contract extension.

Amid an 11-37 stretch, there was a growing division in the clubhouse, with several players reportedly going to management to complain about their differences with their hard-nosed manager. When Collins announced his resignation, he said he wouldn't miss "the bickering."

Larry Bowa, who was the Angels' third-base coach, said: "When a bunch of veteran players get disgruntled, you know the old saying, it's a lot easier to get rid of one person than five or six people. He might have lost a few guys, but he didn't lose the clubhouse."

Mo Vaughn was in his first season with the Angels and reported to be in the middle of the clubhouse dispute. Vaughn's attorney responded to an interview request Monday to discuss his year with Collins by saying, "Mo is not around this week."

But DiSarcina stressed not to look for too much meaning in events that are 11 years old. He said Collins seemed "invigorated," and promised that he would "cherish" this opportunity.

He may be a tad calmer, but DiSarcina said no one should mistake that for being a pushover.

"He's not going to accept somebody giving 70 percent of themselves," he said. "That part will never change with T.C."