Here, out of view from most, Terry Collins can have his way. In the manager's office at Citi Field, nothing is out of place. After all these years, his devotion to order remains unchanged.
The only papers on his desk are the ones he needs that day. This morning, they're color-coded matchup tables and pages of statistics, the relevant ones highlighted with yellow lines, all of them perfectly straight.
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"You should see my golf bag," said Collins, who carries precisely 18 tees for 18 holes because, as he explains it, "I don't need any of that excess [stuff]."
At 66, the oldest skipper in the big leagues already has a life envisioned for himself once he's done here.
To the oldest of his four grandchildren, the man whose burning intensity twice got him run out of town is known simply as "Grampa.''
Soon he'll fill his days listening to their stories. But for now, there are no traces of them here. Nor are there any pictures in sight, even of his wife, who might be the reason he has yet to burn himself out. He doesn't like photos. They're clutter.
His focus is clear -- making good on his third and final chance at a winner -- and to do that, he must have order.
There was a time when Collins regarded any challenges to his sensibilities as a personal affront. The idea extended to the performance of his players on the field. After all, there was a right way to work, a right way to play, a right way to respect the game.
He policed breaches with gusto, his fire raging at every offense, no matter how slight. Emotions overwhelmed him, saddling him with a scarlet letter: too combustible to be trusted with the fragile egos of big-league players. Punishment came in the form of an 11-year exile from managing.
Now that the Mets have been rewarded for taking a chance on Collins, the natural inclination exists to count the ways in which he has changed. To be clear, he has not.
"But I think he's adjusted," said his longtime mentor, Jim Leyland. "And I think there's a difference. You don't really change as much as a person."
Therein lies the Rosetta Stone that's required to decode the silver-haired, avuncular, folksy manager of the Mets, whose eruptions come with far less frequency, though there's no disputing his status as an active volcano.
The urge still exists to spew ash all around him. Now, though, he resists the temptation. He has learned to live with the terms of this uneasy truce, though it came only with time.
"It's no longer an iron fist," said Joe Simpson, the longtime Braves broadcaster and Collins' roommate in the minor leagues. "It's no longer my way or the highway, which I think in some ways it's the way that Terry grew up.''
LEARNED TO BE TOUGHCollins' stories flow with the ease of years spent on the banquet circuit, each pause in the action designed for the inevitable laugh. Depending on the audience, he substitutes his more colorful words for their tamer surrogates: "cripes'' and "stinkin'.''
One of his favorite tales comes from his childhood in Midland, Michigan, a factory town long anchored by Dow Chemical, where his father worked as the company's labor relations chief.
Always undersized, Collins learned early that toughness and fearlessness had to be his best friends on the playing field. He had to play hard. This did not sit well with another mother in the neighborhood, who forbid her son from playing with Collins.
"I've always been that guy,'' he said.
When Collins went off to Eastern Michigan University and then to the Pirates' farm system to begin his four-decade odyssey through professional baseball, he carried his grittiness like his luggage.
"When you get to be a coach -- and especially a manager who did not play in the big leagues -- you figure everybody will appreciate it as much as you would have,'' said Simpson, who roomed with Collins at Triple-A Albuquerque in 1975. "Terry wants everybody to enjoy it like he would have, and play it like he would have, which would have been to the nth degree.''
At 5-8, Collins brought speed and a steady glove to the middle infield but lacked power at the plate. When teams slighted him by playing their outfields shallow, he raged.
"He'd hit a ball over their head,'' said Simpson, still a frequent visitor to Collins' office. "It always cracked me up that nobody learned their lesson.''
But soon, desire wasn't enough. In 10 years, he played in the Pacific Coast League, back when the circuit included stops in Hawaii. He played in Quebec City, where fans braved blizzards and watched from atop snowstacks. But he once went 52 straight days without playing, a clear sign that he'd never get the call to the majors. Eventually, he took on a role as a player/coach in the Dodgers' chain. It became clear that his path to the big leagues would run through the dugout.
Just as he did as a player, Collins went where the opportunities took him. For 11 years, he worked his way through the minors as a manager. Not until 1992 did he catch his first big- league break thanks to Pirates manager Leyland, who hired Collins as bullpen coach.
"I could see that he was a future manager,'' Leyland said. "I could see his love for the game. He managed in the minor leagues a long time. I knew he knew the game. I knew he was very bright. I knew he cared about people.''
So just as Tony La Russa had once done for him, Leyland began grooming Collins for the job. He invited Collins to observe his postgame news conferences, a page right out of La Russa's playbook.
In 1994, when the Astros expressed interest in interviewing Collins for their managerial opening, Leyland grilled him with questions he might face. The preparation paid off.
TWO FAILED ATTEMPTSCollins led the Astros to three straight second-place finishes before being fired in 1996. That's when La Russa's Cardinals surged past the Astros, who wilted in September amid rumblings that Collins had been wound too tight.
Less than a month passed before he was hired by the Angels.
"I am definitely intense,'' he said during his introductory news conference. "But I'm not the monster some people think I am.''
Yet near the end of the 1999 season, Collins once again let his intensity burn too hot. Despite high expectations, the Angels imploded, done in by a roster ravaged by injuries and a clubhouse that proved to be a toxic mix.
Collins resigned on the heels of an ugly clubhouse mutiny, which emerged partly because he failed to communicate with his veterans. His temper again had gotten the best of him.
Those twin failures trailed Collins for more than a decade. He flamed out after nearly two years in Japan. Later, he managed China in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Only once in that span did he come close to managing in the majors again. He rejoined the Dodgers as director of player development and appeared to be in line for the manager's job in 2006. Former Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta would have hired Collins had he not been fired himself.
"Terry was hurt by that,'' Simpson said. "And I think at that point, he wondered, 'My goodness, I guess my time has passed and I'm not going to get another opportunity.' I know that really hurt him.''
But in 2010, when the Mets needed a field coordinator, former GM Omar Minaya hired Collins. The job suited him. Working with the youngest organization in the system finally taught him the patience that had long eluded him.
"We had the greatest time when he was the field coordinator, traveling around when he wasn't under extreme pressure,'' said Collins' wife, Debbie. "He's very mellow. But I think he really has maintained pretty much a balance all the time. I've never seen him get angry, really.''
Minaya was dismissed at the end of the 2010 season. He was replaced by Sandy Alderson, who installed DePodesta as one of his top lieutenants. In November, Collins got his third chance. At the news conference introducing him as Mets manager, he sounded a familiar theme: "I'm not the evil devil that a lot of people made me out to be.''
NOT MANY RULESSince that day, Collins said he has berated his team only once, after a late-season loss in which he thought the Mets had quit. (Several others said the manager has let loose a handful of times, though they agreed that it has been rare.)
"Those meetings that some managers have when they yell and scream?'' Collins said. "I had those. I don't have those anymore.''
While he will never be confused with a warm-and-fuzzy players' manager, he also has left no doubt about having the players' respect. Collins once boasted about having 50 rules, each of which he felt compelled to enforce. But Mets captain David Wright said that nowadays, Collins "doesn't have many rules.''
He leaves veterans to police the clubhouse, trusting them to handle internal squabbles. He lets his older players know when days off are coming so they're not caught off guard.
Said Wright: "He's come here and from Day 1 it seemed like he's made a conscious effort.''
The clubhouse today bears little resemblance to Collins' sense of order, but mostly, he turns the other cheek. Not every battle must be fought.
"Once in a while, yeah, I get ticked off,'' Collins said. "Because I think there's a way to do things, a way to play the game. If you can't buy into it, we might have to butt heads sometimes. To me, that's a part of life in sports.''
He can't stand home run trots, or bat flips, or pitch limits. He finds the idea of fantasy sports abhorrent, though his players participate in a football league run by Wright.
Collins still makes notes in a hand-held black organizer and carries a smartphone only because work requires it. It stuns him that after games, he often sees a clubhouse full of players still in full uniform, their faces buried in their cellphone screens.
He doesn't get Twitter. He can't understand why any player would make it so easy to invite negativity in. But he doesn't bother breaking out that sermon, either.
"Times change and you have to change with them,'' Collins said. "Or you need to get out because it's too hard. The season's too long. You're here every day."
KEPT METS TOGETHERIn his first four years with the Mets, there was a lot of losing, the kind of defeats that would have sent the old Collins into fits of rage. In those years, even as the Mets faded from contention, La Russa marveled at how they were always ready to play.
"Human nature being what it is, when you don't have a chance to win, it's so easy to get discouraged,'' La Russa said. "Your club just doesn't have that same competitive edge. Guys tend to be more selfish . . . Terry and the coaches did an outstanding job of fighting human nature. The teams kept competing.''
In 2012, La Russa added Collins to his National League coaching staff at the All-Star Game, partly as a reward for the way Collins kept the Mets together. That he had done so under intense media scrutiny in New York only added to the respect from his peers.
"He's done a great job, and he did a great job in years that he did not finish first," La Russa said. "I think the payoff is now.''
It was early in his first year as manager of the Mets. They had dropped a game they should've won, precisely the kind of loss that makes Collins want to explode. The car ride home was not fun. He hadn't spoken a word until the awkward silence finally was broken by his wife.
"Now,'' Collins said, stifling a laugh in the retelling, "are you going to be mad at the whole world for the rest of the night?''
Over the next four years, there would be more rides like this, more long silences, more soothing words spoken at just the right time. There would be late-night glasses of wine and chatter about anything but baseball.
"He's always been a leader,'' Debbie Collins said.
They have known each other since he was 10 years old. Both grew up in Midland and attended the same high school, where Collins was captain of the football, baseball and basketball teams.
In college, they dated briefly before the years pulled them apart. They did not reconnect until Collins was coaching in the minors. She had married, had a family and then become widowed. He had married, never had children and ultimately wound up on his own.
They married in 2010, just before Collins joined the Mets as field coordinator. He had suddenly become a grandfather. Soon he found himself thinking of ways to make his Midlothian, Virginia, home more kid-friendly for his grandchildren, an environment he never had growing up.
"I can see why parents say that kids can change your life,'' Collins said. "The one thing I always wanted is that I want my grandkids to want to come and see me.''
FUTURE PLANSHe knows that the end of his career is near. There are no more stops along the way. If all goes well, he hopes to stay at it for another year or two before stepping away on his own terms.
"I'd like another chance to do this because I see a real bright future here,'' he said. "But I'm not going to do it for a long time. I'm going to go have some fun, get up when I want to get up, go play golf, mow the yard, stuff that makes me relaxed.''
But first there is business to resolve, a championship to chase.
Until now, Collins' only experience in October came in 1992, when he was a Pirates coach. As Game 7 of the NLCS steamed toward its legendary conclusion, Collins watched from the bullpen, trying desperately to tune out the Atlanta police SWAT team members cheering hard for the Braves to score.
The end came on a memorable slide at the plate by a player he had managed in the minor leagues: Sid Bream.
After the game, Collins walked into the visitors' clubhouse at Fulton County Stadium and saw something he has seen once and only once in all his years in baseball: players sitting in their chairs, motionless. Not a soul dared to move. No sounds. No words. Just numbness. It stayed this way the entire flight back to Pittsburgh.
Now, 23 years later, Collins has his chance to make new memories.
Alderson repeatedly has praised Collins for keeping the Mets in contention during the dark days of this season leading up to the trade deadline, when the offense had scuffled so badly that one night, out of ideas, Collins jokingly suggested that the club try "human sacrifice.''
As the Mets neared clinching the NL East, Collins' intensity bubbled to the surface. His answers became clipped. He wondered if his team had been playing tight, though it was the manager who sounded wound up.
"This year was more pressure than we've had before because of all the ups and downs,'' Debbie Collins said. "But he's just handled it great.''
Collins promised he'd be the "happiest guy in the room'' once the Mets clinched, and he was true to his word. When the team spilled out onto the field in Cincinnati on Sept. 26, Collins grabbed a bottle of champagne and sprayed it on the Mets fans scrunched along the railing by the dugout.
The Mets hit another lull, losing out on home-field advantage. But he insisted that the team would "party on.''
"The old Terry Collins probably wouldn't have made it into this season,'' Simpson said.
After the final game of the regular season, with his wife watching from the front row at Citi Field, Collins laughed his way through his news conference. He arrived holding a plastic cup of wine, and brought it with him when he excused himself at the end.
"OK,'' he said before raising the glass. "Cheers!'' Collins let his guard down. At long last, he was having fun.
"It gets tiring three-quarters of the way through when you don't know how it's going to go,'' his wife said, clutching a white purse decorated with Mets logos. "But right now, he is so happy. He is so happy. It was worth it. It was all worth it.''