Terry Collins playing underdog card as motivation

Mets manager Terry Collins laughs during spring training. Mets manager Terry Collins laughs during spring training. (Feb. 21, 2012) Photo Credit: Alejandra Villa

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The orange T-shirts, with a cartoonish blue "U'' across the front, hung in the lockers of all the Mets after Monday's first full-squad workout. The idea, hatched by Jeff Wilpon, was to further the mind-set driven home by Terry Collins' emotional address to the team that morning.

There's no denying that this Mets team, with a payroll slashed by roughly $50 million from last season, is perceived as an underdog. Hence the "U'' on the chest, just like the superhero canine. What Collins tried to do was use that as motivation for the season ahead.

"I spoke from the heart, as I always do," Collins said, "and I told them, there's 29 other teams that think they're better than you are. How does that make you feel? And what are you going to do about it? Are you going to talk about it or are we going to do something about it?"

Daniel Murphy was the only Met wearing the shirt after Monday's workout, and it was unclear if the design was supposed to energize the Mets or annoy them into adopting an "us-against-the-world" mentality.

David Wright, the only current Met to remember what it was like to be one hit away from the World Series in 2006, seemed a little uncomfortable with the T-shirt concept.

"I don't really like using the whole underdog thing," Wright said. "I don't like playing that card. I think it's just a way to remind everybody in here that the outside expectations aren't the expectations that we have for ourselves, and I think Terry did a good job of conveying that."

Collins even suggested that the shirts should make his players angry. "When you put it on, if it ticks you off, then we're doing our job," the manager said. "Just because we don't have $100-million contracts doesn't mean we have a bad team.

"We are in a market, and we have a fan base, that expects people to play the game right and play the game well. It's got to be played that way."

R.A. Dickey praised Collins' pre-workout address and couldn't argue with what the T-shirts represent. He believes, however, that the Mets' identity needs more time to develop.

"There are a lot of pundits and periodicals out there that are picking us to finish dead last, and in that regard, that's factual -- we are the underdog in a lot of people's eyes," Dickey said.

He sees Collins as the right manager to capitalize on that.

"It's easy to play hard for Terry because he hasn't forgotten what it's like to be a player," Dickey said. "He's also a motivating presence. I think he connects with the players and with the pulse of this team."

General manager Sandy Alderson also spoke to the players at the meeting. Principal owner Fred Wilpon, his son Jeff, the chief operating officer, and team president Saul Katz watched but did not speak. Afterward, when asked about his message to the fans, Fred Wilpon echoed his manager's sentiments.

"I actually believe we have a far better team than what you all feel," Wilpon told reporters. "We've got to win the fans back. No, strike that. Win the fans and the customers back . . . We have a diminished population coming to Citi Field. We need that revenue . . . and the only way we're going to get that revenue is if we have a competitive, interesting team on the field."

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