ATLANTA - The son returned from Japan, the latest stop in his baseball odyssey, and bought the father a gleaming new condominium. It was the least Terry Collins could do for the man who shaped him.

Loren "Bud" Collins raised his family in tiny Midland, Michigan. And to his son, now the manager of the Mets, he passed along all Terry would need to make his life in the game.

Yet the father failed to comprehend why his son had been so generous.

"He said to me, 'You know what? I cannot believe that anybody would ever do something like this for me,' " Collins said of his late father recently. "I said, 'Really?' "

In that beautiful condo, the son listed all the small gestures he could remember, all the moments when his father had given him more than he could know.

He spoke of the morning when he was 11 years old and found a brand-new Wilson A2000 baseball glove waiting for him at the breakfast table. He remembered all those baseball games in all those tiny towns in Michigan, and how his father found time to attend.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The son recalled the times the father talked him out of quitting the game that one day would allow him to make his living. Every time, he always knew just what to say.

The son inherited this, too.

"Paybacks are a bitch," the son told the father. "Deal with it."

FATHERLESS

The son mourns the loss of his father. But the grind of the baseball life has taught Terry Collins not to sweat the things he can't have.

Mets videos

In a way, those years have numbed his feelings.

He has missed more weddings than he can count. He no longer celebrates his birthdays. And on this Father's Day -- his first without Bud Collins -- that mentality has provided a measure of comfort.

"You miss him because there's always those memories of how he was," Collins said. "But I also have those memories of how he was at the end. And I didn't want to see him like that."

Slowed by a series of heart attacks, Bud Collins succumbed in February at the age of 95. But his legacy lives on through his son, 66, who is the oldest manager in baseball and perhaps the most energetic.

"I know one thing," he said. "I think you shape a personality. I don't think you're born with it."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Those lessons began when Collins was a child, when a neighbor refused to play with him. The reason: Collins was playing too hard. The father told his son to never change. He was right, of course.

During a summer break from college, Collins was working a job laying railroad track. Exhausted after a day of work, he griped about having to play in a game later that night.

The father wouldn't have it.

"Don't you have a game?"

"Yeah, they just called. I don't want to go."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"Did you say you were going to be on the team?"

"Yeah."

"Good luck."

IN THE BEGINNING

The father knew little about being a son. He was only 7 when his own father left and never came back.

Hardship dotted the stories he would tell his own children about those times.

"His mother would tell him to sweep the floors," Terry Collins said. "He said all it was is he just went around with a broom and swept it between the cracks in the floorboards and just let it go below the house."

Through sports, Bud Collins found his escape. He excelled at basketball. He loved baseball. Athletics gave him a living, as it would his son, on a much larger scale.

A friend had heard about a fast-pitch softball team in Midland, Michigan, sponsored by the Dow Chemical Company. He encouraged Bud Collins to tag along.

So he took a plant protection job that required only that he punch the clock and report to practice, playing third base for the Dow Athletic Club.

That job led to another and then to another. He rose to the position of labor negotiator. With the love of his life, he started a family: three girls and a boy.

In the summer, Bud Collins' Sundays were reserved for his wife, Choyce. But in the winter, those afternoons belonged to Bo, the nickname he bestowed upon his son.

They called it Pizza Sunday. They made pies, and together, they watched the NFL. From those days sprang a love for sports that still endures.

SAGE ADVICE

The father listened patiently to the son's agony.

Four decades in baseball have exposed Collins to its cruelest fates. The game tested his loyalty, his love. This was yet another one.

He was 29, a player-coach in the Dodgers' organization, at a crossroad in his career. He had been told that he would be offered a manager's job in the system. Then he watched the position go to somebody else.

"What do I have in my life?" the son told the father. "I've got nothing. I've got the clothes in my closet. I've got my car. I said, I've got a lot of friends but I never see them. I'm playing ball all the time."

The father golfed on the weekends with friends, showered his wife with attention and picnicked on the Fourth. The son now wanted this life, too. And he could have it.

Archer Daniels Midland, the agribusiness giant, had offered a job. It paid well enough to settle down.

That's when the father shared what he often talked about during those days on the golf course, on those outings with his wife and on those picnics on the Fourth.

"The rest of us, we lived our life through you," Collins recalls his father saying. "We all used to say, wow, what a great life he's got: He's independent, he's playing ball, he's doing what he wants to do. He's happy. He doesn't have to go to work 8 to 5. That was the lifestyle we wanted."

He asked his son if he was truly happy. Through all the disappointment, he was.

Bud Collins needed to hear no more.

"If you're still happy, you stay happy," the father told his son, who remains tethered to baseball to this day.

THE BIG WISH

The son knew the father was dying. So in those last days of winter, there was a lot of talking, a lot of listening.

Four days before Loren "Bud" Collins drew his final breath, he asked his son about the upcoming season. In the frigid cold, he wanted to know only about the coming of spring.

This was typical.

The only time the son could remember the father in despair came at the death of his best friend, Choyce, who died on their 42nd wedding anniversary.

"He was a mess for a long time," Collins said.

The tragedy lingered, though over time, the father came back to the light. And that's where he stayed, even as the darkness neared.

He asked his son again: Was he still having fun? The answer hadn't changed. Then the father wanted to know about something much larger than baseball.

He wondered about his son's greatest wish.

"I said, 'You know what it is, Dad?' " Terry Collins said. " 'I wished you had a dad like you.' "