VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – Terry Collins’ second year as skipper of the New York Mets promises to go a lot smoother than his soph season at the helm of the Orix Buffaloes back in 2008.
You’ll recall early in that second campaign with the Buffs, Collins resigned abruptly over philosophical differences with Orix management on the best way to improve their then-last place team.
There’s no way, though, that Collins is jumping ship with his current New York club. Terry and the Mets front office are definitely on the same page regarding how to lead the Big Apple ballclub out of the National League East abyss (only Miami was worse last season).
Collins and the present Mets brass firmly believe in giving their younger players time to develop at the big league level — something that didn’t always happen when Collins was with Orix.
“That first year at Orix, we were bad — and old,” Collins told MAS before a recent spring training game in Port St. Lucie, Florida. “We had guys in their late 30s and 40s who were there because of box office appeal. We needed to get younger and faster.”
“At the end of the season, the general manager promised me I could have whatever I wanted,” continued Collins. “So I gave him a list of six things I wanted done, players we needed.
“When I came back for spring training the second season, not one thing had been done.”
After that second campaign started, things went downhill rapidly for Collins.
“The front office was doing some funny (stuff),” Terry remembered. “I go to the ballpark one day and find out they’ve sent a young player to the minors ‘for more seasoning’ without telling me.”
“I told them ‘No, you let him play through these things; even if he’s 0-for-8, he’s still the best player you’ve got.’ “
Nearing the midway point of that second season, Orix had pretty much nixed most changes Terry had hoped to implement, “Soon, coming to the ballpark was just no fun anymore” said Collins. “So I told them, ‘If I’m just gonna manage the game, you’ve got the wrong guy.’ “
After his Orix departure, Terry spent several years running the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system. Eventually, the post-Bernie Madoff fiasco Mets front office came a-knocking with an opportunity for Collins to manage for an organization that now believed in building from within.
Thus, it is that most of the position players on this year’s Mets are younger, organizational products presently in sink-or- swim mode.
“Every star started where these guys are at,” Collins offered. “They were talented enough that if you go out and apply your talents and execute, you’re gonna get better.”
“And I see that in a lot of our guys.”
Classic example: shortstop Ruben Tejada, who was thrust into the starting lineup last season when All-Star Jose Reyes left via free agency. The unheralded Tejada proceeded to hit .289 and fill the Reyes void nicely.
“(Tejada) knows his game,” said Collins, “and when he doesn’t try to do too much, he’s a good offensive player and an outstanding defender.
“To see those guys getting better and better, that’s what we’re trying to do here.”
But the biggest key for the Mets, says Collins, will be their pitching.
“The name of the game is pitching, as it is everywhere,” Terry told MAS.
“If we can get 195-200 innings from our five starters (which include stalwarts Johan Santana and Shaun Marcum and promising Zach Wheeler),” said Collins, “we’re gonna surprise some people.”
Looking back, personable Terry is not the least bit bitter about his stint in Japan. “I enjoyed my time there,” said Terry. “They’re great people; they were very, very good to me.”
Terry acknowledges that cash-strapped Orix was between a rock and a hard place while he was there.
Struggling to stay afloat in tough economic times, the Buffaloes went for the quick financial fix by bringing in older, big-name players who had star appeal but were on the downside of their careers.
This, at the expense of player development that would have been more beneficial in the long run.
MAS senses, though, there remains a tinge of disappointment within Terry that he couldn’t do for Orix what Bobby Valentine did for the Japan Series-winning Chiba Lotte Marines.
“Bobby changed a lot of things philosophically,” noted Collins. “He had a lot of great ideas to get their baseball better. For example, he tried to come up with another minor league system: signed twice as many players, sent guys to the U.S. developmental and independent leagues.”
“We tried to change some things over there, too,” said Terry with a hint of a sigh. “But in Japan, change is often hard to come by.”
MAS suspects that any future gains by Collins and the forward-looking Mets will also be Orix’s loss.
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