Back in the New York Groove.

Underdog was an understatement.  If you had told me the Mets would be second in the NL East, I would have told you you’re crazy.  If anyone said they predicted R.A. Dickey as the front-runner for the Cy Young award this far into the season, I’d call them a liar.  David Wright is having an amazing season; complimented by breakout performances from R.A. Dickey, Lucas Duda, Kirk Neiuwenhuis, and Mike Baxter. This season has been a thrill ride with every pitch.

“They are not hitting my guy tonight.”

Terry Collins deserves a lot of respect for the way he manages this roster.  Appealing a one hitter, on what should have been ruled as an error, only shows the heart he has for this team.  He got a lot of credit for taking David Wright and Daniel Murphy out of the game, in a blowout loss to the Brewers, protecting a star player from taking a fastball in the back in retaliation to a D.J. Carasco bean ball, but this was only one display of the changes he has made personally.  Like everyone in professional sports, Terry Collins comes with a history. Image

He began his career as a MLB manager with the Astros in 1994, after a coaching stint under Jim Leyland with the Pirates.  Collins put a tremendous amount of pressure on his players to succeed, and when things went awry, it was the end of the world.  A panic stricken Collins thrived on anxiety, and despite three winning seasons, he had failed to make it to the post season.  He was dismissed, but found refuge with the Anaheim Angels.  After two winning seasons, the Angels spent the 1999 season riddled with injuries, and weren’t able to put together a winning team.  After five seasons finishing in 2nd place, and 29 games left in the season, Collins was forced out after the players had convened, and petitioned for his resignation – his second in five years.

Looking at the way the Mets have responded to him this year, it is surprising to imagine this was ever the case.  He spent a year with the Devil Rays coaching staff in 2001, and took a sabbatical leave from managing baseball, re-surfacing in Japan in 2007.  He managed a team for two seasons, turning a sub-500 roster into a playoff team.  He resigned from that position as well, stating he “lacked the fire” they needed.  After managing China in the World Baseball Classic, he joined the Mets organization, working in the minor league system for the 2010 season.  Later in the year, he was introduced as the manager, replacing the mediocre Jerry Manuel, who’s superstar laden roster perpetually looked uninspired and failed to make a post-season appearance.

People knocked him at the end of the 2011 season for letting Jose Reyes take himself out of the game to win the batting title.  I tend to look at the bigger picture.  Every hit Jose Reyes got that season went towards the Mets first ever NL batting title, not just the bunt.  On top of that, Braun got popped for steroids in the offseason.  Was it the most ethical decision on Jose Reyes’ part? Maybe not, but as a fan of the Mets, I believe he deserved something to show for his eight years in Queens.  I support Terry Collins for giving that to him, as it shows his personal commitment to the franchise.  I also respect the way his team fought tooth and nail until the very end that season.

He has not lost his intensity one bit.  He has all the “fire,” the Mets need. He wants to win. Bad.  But he has just learned to channel his emotions differently. This rag tag team, strategically assembled by mad genius Sandy Alderson, has made watching this season a wonder.  City Field is no longer the Island of Misfit Toys.  Led by an unlikely Rudolph, in Terry Collins, with Alderson as Santa in the sleigh, the Mets are a formidable troop of reindeer.  This season so far, has been a gift.

“I truly believe, in my heart, we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

The Mets had dealt away Angel Pagan, a player I had assumed was part of the Mets’ future.  I was certainly disappointed to see him go, replaced by Andres Torres, an aging lead off hitter who struggled to hit over .200 with the Giants last year, but the Amazin’s have not skipped a beat without Pagan, getting quality performances from everyone but their stars (with the exception of Wright).

Ike Davis is just starting to catch his groove.  Jason Bay has suffered yet another concussion, which I was hoping would knock some sense in to him, but Collins has been a great motivator for the rest of the team.  Despite Ike’s turn around, Collins pinch-hit Scott Hairston for him Sunday night, citing a bad match up while letting Davis know he still has something to prove.  Monday night, he hit a grand slam. He has been making all the right moves thus far, scrapping out wins.  Getting quality starts out of Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, and Jon Niese has been crucial – the No-Hitter from Johan, and R.A. Dickey’s inspiring 11-1 start are an added bonus.  The ironically named Frank Francisco has emerged as a capable closer, while Tim Byrdak and Bobby Parnell have made significant appearances as well.

When Mike Baxter ran into Kirk Neiuwenhuis, chasing down a routine fly ball, he returned to the dugout, sitting alone in shame, knowing this mistake would potentially cost the Mets the game.  Fifteen years ago, he would have been anticipating a verbal lashing from Collins, but instead, it was Collins who was the first one to sit down next to him, put his arm around him and tell him what he needed to hear.  A manager who was once famous for putting too much pressure on his players was the one to relieve him of his guilt.

“If you are saying to a reporter, ‘We’re better than people think,’ what are you going to do to prove it? Talk is cheap. Back it up.”

Terry Collins won this team over, just as he has won me over as a fan.  He says all the right things to the media.  He is a straight shooter.  While many managers and coaches in all sports look for ways to spin details to work in their favor, Collins tells it like it is.  After everyone saw Wright explode at Collins, he had a chance to say it was about anything, or give a standard, “no comment.”  He told everyone the truth.  He wears his heart on his sleeve and cares about his guys, as well as the fans.  He candidly answers questions with honesty, and without hesitation.

“People pay a good price to come to these games, and they got to understand that I ask these players to do a lot,” a teary-eyed Collins said, after the end of the 2011 season, “We worked hard to get their respect this year and they deserve ours.”

You’ve got it now, sir.  For as long as you’re here.

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