Amid hard-fought year, Collins relishes All-Star invite
While most of his Mets get breather, manager honored to join festivities as coach
"I've never been through two weeks of more grueling baseball than we've been through."
-- Terry Collins
NEW YORK -- The Mets' manager spoke those words July 4 after a four-game series against the D-backs that had been contested in sauna-like conditions and included games of 13 and 15 innings and rain delays that totaled more than 2 1/2 hours. That home series came after his team played three exasperating games against the Nationals at Citi Field and a 14-games-in-14-days excursion that took the Mets to Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and Denver. And it preceded the current trip -- three games in Milwaukee, three in San Francisco (one that lasted 16 innings) and three in Pittsburgh, the club's third three-time zone trip ever, its third this year, and its second in less than a month.
No wonder the Mets' uniforms had morphed into fatigues.
With a San Francisco-to-Pittsburgh flight promising more Metlag, and three games against the team with the second-highest winning percentage in the league still awaiting them, the Mets could at least see some R&R on the horizon. For most of them -- David Wright and Matt Harvey being the exceptions -- the Mets see Monday through Wednesday as 72 hours without bats, balls, bunts and bullpens.
Collins could use some time away, too. But he will spend Monday and Tuesday at the office, his office at Citi Field -- for All-Star Game duty. But it hardly qualified as duty for the Mets' manager. Call it a midsummer night's dream or All-Star Game opportunity. Giants manager Bruce Bochy, the National League manager, has asked Collins to serve as one of his coaches. Collins accepted the invitation without hesitation.
After 80-something games, too many of them unrewarding, what better way to spend a few days away from the job than to do something quite comparable? But it makes Collins happier than a ukuleleist in a Geico commercial.
"It's the big leagues," Collins said the other day. "It's not an assignment, it's a chance to be around the best players in our game. It's a great honor."
He can sleep come winter.
With Citi as the site for the game, Bochy's inviting of the Mets manager could be seen as enforcement of an unwritten rule. But Collins worked the game last year in Kansas City at the behest of Tony La Russa. He hadn't anticipated that.
"Last year was really cool," Collins said. "It's not like we'd been 20 games over .500 around here. I was very pleased that Tony asked."
And because he was chosen for the 2012 game, Collins assumed he'd not be asked this year.
But Bochy, like many other managers in the game, has authentic respect for Collins and for what he's accomplished in 2 1/2 seasons with the routinely out-manned Mets -- two fourth-place finishes and steps in the direction of a third. Most of Collins' colleagues give him credit for making lemonade out of lemons. It could be sweeter of course, but they're aware of the quicksand in Flushing and admire his work.
"I asked Terry at the Winter Meetings," Bochy said Wednesday from San Francisco. "I've known Terry for a while, and I respect the work he does. Good baseball man and manager. I wanted to take him and Davey Johnson, similar ... very well-respected and with New York ties. I thought they'd be a great fit."
"I'm very appreciative of the invite," Collins said. "Somebody said to me last month, 'You'll be going.' But I said, 'Not after last year. I don't think so.'"
The experience was enjoyed. Collins coached first base in the first inning before being replaced by one of La Russa's former staff members. Collins returned to the dugout and told La Russa "All right, I got you a lead. Now see if you can hold it." The NL had scored five runs -- against Justin Verlander, no less -- en route to an 8-0 victory, its third straight win after 12 losses and a tie.
Collins had one earlier All-Star Game experience. He was an NL coach in 1995, selected by NL manager Felipe Alou. Buck Showalter and Alou were the managers because their teams, the Yankees and Expos, respectively, had produced the best records in their leagues before the strike-shortened '94 season ended.
Collins, 46 at the time, was in the second of his three years managing the Astros. The game was played in Arlington. Alou's invitation was a surprise as well, and it too was a salute to Collins' work. The Astros had produced a .574 winning percentage in 1994, and were in second place when he was chosen in '95.
Collins coached first base in '95; the third-base coach was Jerry Manuel, then with the Expos and the man Collins replaced as Mets manager in 2011.
The All-Star Game still was "an exhibition" in 1995 Collins' mind. The home-field advantage in the World Series still alternated between the leagues then; no link to the outcome of the All-Star Game existed. Moreover, the home run-hitting contest happened on the day of the game, after batting practice. It wasn't televised.
"But the whole thing was still an event you wanted to be part of," Collins says.
"I was proud when Felipe picked me, and when Tony picked me last year. And now I'll be at our park. It's great. You don't get tired of this. It's nice when someone asks you to help."