Mets manager Terry Collins watches as pitchers and catchers start...

Mets manager Terry Collins watches as pitchers and catchers start their workout during spring training. (Feb. 21, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Terry Collins still has some time to polish his kickoff speech before the Mets' first full-squad workout Saturday. But the second-year manager, who gave his opening address to the media Tuesday, already has a good idea of what he's going to say.

Collins watches TV and reads the newspapers, too.

"The crux of the message is pretty obvious, and that is we're better than people think we are," Collins said. "I don't want these guys to think for one second there's no expectations. There are expectations. This is the major leagues. We've got a good team. Yeah, we've lost two real good players out of our lineup. We've lost some good pitchers. But we've got to move forward."

Jose Reyes is down the road training with the Marlins in Jupiter. Right next door is Carlos Beltran, who will be playing for the Cardinals this season. As for K-Rod, he's over in Arizona with the Brewers.

Now Collins is being asked to do more with less -- considerably less proven talent and less money, roughly $50 million less than last year's Opening Day payroll. That might not feel so bad if the other teams in the NL East didn't improve this winter. But now it's Collins' job to prevent the Mets from falling into the trap of making excuses, something that he already is wary of.

"It's human nature to say, 'Wow, we got a challenge on our hands,' " Collins said. "The thing I want to get these guys to understand is it's not going to be acceptable to say 'Well, we're not supposed to be very good.' I will not stand for that. We've got to understand when we go out, we've got to execute the game better than who we're playing against. Ultimately . . . it's not always the best team that wins. It's the team that plays the best that wins and we've got be that club."

Collins cited a number of examples: the 2010 Giants, the 2011 Cardinals. Heck, he even threw in the newly crowned Super Bowl champs, who were 7-7 at one point. And Collins once again plans to be an example. The 62-year-old manager mentioned how he shows up at the clubhouse at 4:30 each morning to get his workout in before the players arrive, just to make sure he's there when they do.

Collins finds himself trying to balance a still developing roster with a restless fan base that hasn't seen the Mets make the playoffs since 2006.

"Patience is a tough word in New York City, but we gotta have it," Collins said. "I've got to maintain it. I've come to learn that over the years. We're going to make sure players that are in this camp understand something. Don't think for one second we just want to be in the middle of the pack. We just want to win 80 games. That's not true. We're going to play to play in the postseason. That's why we're going to take the field."

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