Although Terry Collins wasn’t elected Mets manager, like a newly-elected president he is the Mets manager, whether or not you “voted” for him or not, like it or not. And like a newly-elected president, as patriotic Met fans, we either back him or stop being Met fans.
A couple of dozen season ticket holders, including myself, were invited to observe the Collins’ inauguration Tuesday morning at CitiField. After the media got their fill, we were given a chance to quiz him, Sandy Alderson and Jeff Wilpon in the Mets dugout. These season ticket holder invites were obviously designed to help overcome fan disappointment in the choice and, for those who were there, it obviously worked. And presumably we will spread the word.
First, as Collins himself quipped, he’s “not the evil devil I’ve been made out to be.” Seemingly perpetually tightly cross-armed, Collins comes off as a not-so crazy Billy Martin (to whom Mike Lupica in the Daily News compared him), a tightly-wound ball of baseball fire burning with a let-me-at-’em enthusiasm. From his answers, his strategic attitude mixed with a teacher’s desire to impart knowledge, Collins comes off like a John McGraw throwback – or, perhaps, more familiarly, to the old, crafty, crusty archetypal manager portrayed by the late James Gammon in Major League or Wilfred Brimley in The Natural, sans the grizzle and girth. Collins believes in National League style play, of pitching and defense, in bunting not to play for a single run in the early innings but for strategy – including the seemingly forgotten squeeze play, in just letting good players play but giving them the necessary breathers so they don’t wear out by the long season’s end, in changing the training regimen to help keep a healthy team on the field, and especially in a confidence in the talent the Mets currently can put on the field, and fostering the self-confidence of that talent.
As minor league coordinator for the Mets last season, Collins has seen every young player in the system, knows their strengths and weaknesses, and how major league ready they are – or aren’t. He was part of the decision making process that promoted Jenrry Mejia last season, not because he was ready but because he was the best pitcher available for the job. Ditto for Ruben Tejada. Collins says this year no talent before its time, and he believes the Mets’ system is brimming with talent two-to-three years away. But Collins has seen Mejia pitch in winter ball and believes he’ll be ready to become a starter in 2011. Collins rattled off the name of a handful of other youngsters he sees as future stars in Queens.
According to Collins and Alderson, Daniel Murphy looks better and better at second base, although he has yet to handle an extensive amount of double plays. As Collins pantomimed swinging a bat, he conveyed Murphy’s bat would keep him in the lineup. Carlos Beltran, instead of being eight months removed from surgery is now 18 months and raring to go, as is Jason Bay who, Collins said, is at 100 percent. The obviously giddy Collins believes the Mets have a lot of talent to put on the field. Getting pitchers to throw strikes and keeping everyone healthy is the key.
As one fan rooting for Chip Hale to be chosen, Alderson’s choice of an old, experienced hand at the helm of a young – and growing younger – team seems, five months before the first game, at least to deserve an “okay, we’ll give you a shot” benefit of the doubt by disappointed fans. I, for one, was heartened by meeting the man and ready to support him, patriotically.