Collins returns to LA with Dodgers roots
Mets' skipper had first managerial job with club's affiliate
LOS ANGELES -- For Terry Collins, this National League Division Series opening at Dodger Stadium (9:30 p.m. ET on TBS) is a homecoming. The Mets' manager has some of that Tommy Lasorda blue blood running through his veins, having acquired most of his philosophies and attitudes as a young player and young manager in the Dodgers' system.
"I learned everything here," Collins said on Thursday, 29 hours before Clayton Kershaw, facing Jacob deGrom, would deliver the first pitch for the Dodgers in Game 1.
Reflecting on his humble beginnings in the sport, Collins thanked a former Dodgers executive as a pivotal figure in his career.
"I'm sitting in this chair because of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Bill Schweppe, who was our Minor League director when I was a player here," Collins said. "For some unknown reason, he liked me. He should have released me a dozen times, and he kept me around." :: NLDS: Mets vs. Dodgers -- Tune-in info ::
Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., was a wonderland for a kid like Collins. Knowledge and wisdom flowed everywhere you turned: on the fields, in the clubhouses, in the dining room.
"When you talk about what I learned -- I learned baseball, Dodger baseball," Collins said. "And at a time when you can walk out on the field in Spring Training and you had [Don] Drysdale and [Sandy] Koufax. And Maury Wills, Wes Parker. And Roy Campanella was talking after dinner at night. You talk about learning baseball and learning the history of the game ..."
Following an 11-year Minor League playing career as an infielder -- three with the Pirates, eight with the Dodgers -- Collins was 32 years old when he accepted his first managerial position in 1981 courtesy of Schweppe with Lodi, the Dodgers' Class A affiliate.
That was a memorable year for the franchise, highlighted by Fernando Valenzuela's rise to stardom and a World Series championship claimed at the Yankees' expense.
Collins' final year with the organization was another magical Dodgers season. He was in his fifth season as manager of their Triple-A team in Albuquerque when Orel Hershiser, Kirk Gibson, Mike Scioscia and Co. shocked the baseball planet by rocking the heavily favored Mets and Athletics to win it all.
Among the players Collins managed on that 1988 Albuquerque Dukes club were a young Ramon Martinez, Pedro's talented brother, and catcher John Gibbons, now managing the Blue Jays.
Twenty-seven years later, an MLB manager for 11 seasons for three franchises, Collins is paid to do everything he can to deepen the frustrations of Dodgers fans who haven't celebrated a championship since Orel performed his surgery on the Bash Brothers.
Similar in stature to Gene Mauch, Earl Weaver and Billy Martin, intensely driven managers of earlier eras, Collins began his MLB managerial odyssey in Houston in 1994. His job with the Astros was recognized by Baseball Writers' Association of America voters, placing him third in the NL Manager of the Year race.
Collins also finished third in 1998 with the Angels, a season before it all fell apart. He was replaced on an interim basis by Joe Maddon and then in 2000 by Mike Scioscia. Not bad as successors go.
In those days, Collins was known for his highly volatile nature. When it didn't sit well with some players, it was seen as a reason behind his exits in Houston and Anaheim.
"Guys that played for him back then have said similar things," Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson said. "When I've been with him, he's been pretty even keel. He's not too fiery, but he can be when he needs to be.
"He doesn't have a lot of team meetings. He trusts his coaching staff and what the players are going to do. I'm not sure if any one thing caused a change in him, but I do know that one guy who had a lot of influence on him was Jimmy Leyland. I think that helped him."
When Collins was in the Dodgers' system, the player at the top of the organizational depth chart at second base was Davey Lopes. Now a Dodgers coach, Lopes is impressed with Collins' efforts building a team that struggled offensively before a series of July non-waiver Trade Deadline moves featuring the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes.
"Terry did a great job getting that team here," Lopes said, noting that the Nationals were the universal choice to win the NL East. "It's never easy being in the toughest media market in the country. He kept that team together and competitive all year. You have to respect that."
His Type A personality modified by a calmer approach, Collins has thrived in the frenetic environment. He isn't viewing the Dodgers' home-field advantage in Games 1, 2 and a possible Game 5 as a significant obstacle.
"In the Major Leagues," he said, "everybody has expectations. When you have to go to work every day in New York City with the competition we have with our fan base and everybody else, there's a little extra.
"When you respond positively to that and don't let that get in the way of what you have to accomplish, I think you can play anywhere."