Imagine you’re Terry Collins, about to manage the National League’s dream team on a stage second only to the World Series. It’s a nice reward, the final leftover perk from the Fall Classic, and a chance to maybe enjoy a game rather than bleed for it.
But you can’t. Not fully. Because this All-Star Game, in postcard-perfect San Diego, is merely a glitzy exhibition. And your Mets, the defending National League champs, have real problems. Jetting away from Citi Field for a few days isn’t going to change that, and Collins, despite his All-Star duties, can’t put them aside.
Things could have been different. After the four-game sweep of the Cubs and a series win over the Marlins, Collins was on pace to savor the All-Star experience. Yoenis Cespedes would be his starting leftfielder, and Collins seriously considered anointing Noah Syndergaard the NL starter.
That scenario was so close to happening. So close. Until the Nationals came to town, won three of four, and — on the same awful night at Citi Field — Collins watched as Matt Harvey was lost for the season, Cespedes limped off the field and Syndergaard’s arm mysteriously conked out.
Now Collins’ head can’t help but be cluttered by the issues back in New York as he tries to put on his All-Star face. He will do his best. It won’t be easy.
“I think the All-Star Game deserves some attention, but my primary focus was on what we were doing,” Collins said Monday. “I think it’s an honor to be here. One of the things that everybody’s told me, that when you stand in that room before the game and you look around at the guys that are playing for you, it’s going to be pretty cool. So I’m going go enjoy it as best I can. But it’s work.”
Collins didn’t just show up at Petco Park and fill out a lineup card. The NL roster he will be in charge of Tuesday night is the product of daily phone calls with MLB officials and opposing managers, a process that stretched for weeks. All the while, Collins had a Mets team to keep afloat, so you probably can understand the pressure he’s been experiencing.
And it didn’t stop when the All-Star break began Sunday night. On the Mets’ chartered flight, Collins spent the trip discussing the second-half rotation with pitching coach Dan Warthen. The theme of that summit was figuring out what to do with a group of arms that is buckling under the strain of a taxing first half.
The Mets insist that Syndergaard is only fatigued — not hurt — with the expectation that he’ll finally pick up a baseball Tuesday. Even if he’s truly fine, Syndergaard won’t start again until a week from then against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, allowing him the most rest possible.
Collins also expressed concern about Jacob deGrom, seemingly one of his healthier pitchers. The manager wanted to add him to the NL staff, but deGrom simply told him, “I’m beat,” and Collins didn’t need any more of an explanation. He’s worried about his young aces, and it’s going to be gnawing at him during his All-Star stay.
“What that tells you is that it’s not just the physical. It’s the mental stress that these guys are under right now,” Collins said. “They know how good they are. They know the importance of what they need to do for us to win. So they’re tired. They’re tired physically and they’re tired mentally. And they’re young guys. So I said, you know what, rest is the best thing.”
On Monday, Collins recalled how his good friend, former manager Jim Leyland, said that in sorting out the NL roster, “you are about to partake in one of the worst experiences of your life.” He laughed, remembering how Joe Torre reacted when Collins said he was having a blast at the World Series. Torre told him, “Then you’re not doing it right.”
Collins, a baseball lifer, deserves to have fun with Tuesday night’s All-Star spectacle. But behind that familiar smile you’ll see on TV is a Mets manager with a ton on his mind.