As the Mets' minor-league field coordinator, Terry Collins held a relatively low-profile job for a big- market franchise. Tucked away in Port St. Lucie, Fla., the Mets' obscure spring training outpost, Collins was responsible for overseeing the farm system, and he quickly made an impression on the club's high-level decision-makers.
Collins, 61, patrolled the back fields of the complex with a drill sergeant's demeanor, prompting one executive to remark at the time, "You always know when Terry's around."
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It was meant as a compliment. Collins' strong personality and boundless enthusiasm were a stark contrast to many around him, even overshadowing the major-league staff. To an outside observer unfamiliar with the Mets' personnel, he probably would have been mistaken for the manager.
Now, there's no mistake: Collins will be introduced Tuesday as the 20th manager in the team's 49-season history during a morning news conference at Citi Field that caps a deliberate search stretching almost two months. The Mets' new GM, Sandy Alderson, interviewed 10 candidates for the vacant job before choosing someone who never expected to be in this position again after failed managerial stints in Houston, Anaheim and even Japan, with the Orix Buffaloes.
"When I came back from Japan, I was going to go play golf," Collins said earlier this year. "It was like, OK, I've done my thing. Then my friend Omar Minaya called me and said, 'Look, we need some help here. Would you be willing to help us?' So here I am."
Alderson took that a few steps further by making Collins a major-league manager for the third time, but not since his meltdown with the Angels and resignation in 1999. Collins also left Orix midway through his second season in Japan, frustrated by the system there.
What Collins did appreciate from his stay in Japan, however, was the type of preparation that he brought with him to the Mets' organization and tried to instill from the ground up in his first year.
"They play the game fundamentally sound, take infield every single day and then hardly ever make bad throws when the game time comes," Collins said. "There has to be a correlation there."
Collins seems to have a pretty good idea about what it takes for a player to be successful in the majors. Paul DePodesta, the Mets' new vice president of player development and amateur scouting, gave Collins high praise for his work in Los Angeles, but he has yet to transfer that to the manager's office.
"You learn a lot every step of the way," DePodesta said earlier this month. "There are a lot of things about his experiences that are worthwhile. I really like Terry's intensity and I think he's a tremendous organizational guy."
In six years, Collins was unable to make the postseason with either the Astros or Angels, but his teams did finish second five times. Now in New York, Collins will face more pressure than in his previous two stops, but he seems capable of avoiding some of the personality clashes that hurt him in the past.
"To make guys miserable is not what we got into this for," Collins said. "I've never forgotten that this game is about the players. We're here because of them and they have to respect the game enough to know that, hey, without it, they're selling insurance or something."
Though Collins had a bumpy ride in the majors, he remains hugely popular in Buffalo, where he was a Triple-A manager (1989-91) for what then was the Pirates' affiliate. That doesn't hurt, considering Buffalo is the top level of the Mets' system, and the principles that worked back then could help as the team looks to rebuild confidence in Flushing.
"The object is when the game's over, to have a father leave the park with his son and say, 'That's how you're supposed to play the game,' " Collins said. "You run the ball out, you dive, you play hard."
To that end, Collins promises to do his part - in whatever role - but also realizes that his influence has limitations. "As Jim Leyland said one time," Collins recalled, "I'm a hard worker, not a miracle worker."
Warthen, Hale to stay. The Mets announced that pitching coach Dan Warthen and third-base / infield coach Chip Hale will return in their same roles for 2011. The rest of Collins' staff has yet to be determined, but a person familiar with the situation said Larry Bowa, who is close with Collins, was not being considered for bench coach.