When Terry Collins is called from the Mets’ dugout Monday and positions himself alongside home plate during pregame introductions at Citi Field, it will be a sight that few imagined.
After flameouts with the Astros and Angels, followed by another frustrating exit on a different continent, jumping early from the Orix Buffaloes, Col lins’ career trajectory suggested a brief stay in Flushing. Handed the reins of a franchise in turmoil, his primary function appeared to be that of caretaker as Sandy Alderson ripped apart the Mets’ infrastructure and rebuilt the organization.
Collins, it seemed early on, was to be a placeholder until a Joe Maddon or a Terry Francona arrived to ultimately steer Alderson’s finished product to a World Series.
Yet here Collins is, six years later, an against-the-odds success story more improbable than any other currently wearing a Mets uniform. Only Davey Johnson (595) and Bobby Valentine (536) won more games as Mets manager than Collins (481-491). But he could become the first to pilot the Mets to three consecutive postseason appearances, coming off the 2015 World Series and last year’s wild card. This didn’t figure to be the script drafted back in November 2010.
“When I got the job here, I was just so excited to be back in the dugout, and that’s when I said, you know what, I’m going to have more fun than I had in the past,” said Collins, entering the final season of his contract. “I didn’t care how long it was. I knew it was going to be hard to manage here. But I’ve tried to enjoy it and I have enjoyed it. And I think the continuity of it all has helped. For players, when they know who the manager is, they play.”
What also sets him apart is the personalized everyman’s touch he’s brought to the job in an era that frowns on such behavior by a manager. It’s a bottom-line business, but Collins, in the past two seasons, won between the lines and through his visceral connection with the Mets’ angst-ridden fan base.
While the competitive Alderson is emotionally invested, you won’t see him angry on TV. We do get that from Collins, however, whether it’s effusively praising someone’s performance or melting down from a heartbreaking loss. Minutes after the game, he will be bleeding right there with you.
“Yeah, I always do,” he said. “When I competed, I didn’t like to lose. And there were nights, years ago, I took ’em really hard, because if we lost a game, I thought it was my fault. That I didn’t get the players ready and we didn’t execute the way I thought they would. So therefore I took a lot of stuff personally. I like to win, but I realize it’s a hard game here.”
Six years can feel like a lifetime in Flushing, especially during the turbulent times Collins endured that occasionally threatened to capsize him. He has two 74-win seasons on his Mets resume but climbed to 90 two years later, and he helped get to a World Series ahead of Alderson’s schedule.
Now that the Mets finally have stabilized themselves, with the money and young talent to be a perennial contender, the timing of it all catches Collins during a phase when many consider retirement. He’s baseball’s oldest manager — 68 next month. And the job seems to keep changing at light speed for throwbacks like Collins.
When asked if this could be his last Opening Day, he said he truly doesn’t know, but he also refuses to consider the possibility yet. Ask him again in seven months, after what he’s hoping is a World Series parade.
“You can’t worry about October and November,” Collins said. “You’ve got to worry about Monday, then Wednesday, and then the everyday grind of it. If you think about the end product, it’s just so far away and so much can happen, you could lose sight of what you have to do individually.”
That strategy again has returned Collins to Citi Field for Monday’s opener. Now we’ll see where it takes him and the Mets this year.