Terry Collins spent the winter digesting less-than-flattering prophecies regarding the prospects of his team in 2012.
He had enough. So when he met with the media before the Mets opened their season, it was not the traditional pre-game press conference. It was Collins’ State of the Mets’ Union.
“We expect to be successful,” Collins said. “I don’t want for one second for those guys to walk out of the locker room everyday without the thought of ‘Hey, we’re going to win today.’ That’s the one thing we’re trying to fight with this underdog tag. That may be the perception ... but you better not think of yourself as an underdog.
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“I think the results are going to be better than what the expectations are,” Collins said. “I do think they’re bothered that people don’t think they’re very good. That’s pretty much a slap in the face if you’re a big league baseball player.”
The Mets enter this season widely viewed as the fifth team in the five-team NL East as the organization spent the winter freeing itself of $50 million in payroll. The pessimism surrounding the team’s chances this season has led to a decided lack of public enthusiasm. There was a sprinkling of empty seats throughout the park despite the Mets’ announcement of a Citi Field single-game attendance record of 42,080.
Collins reiterated his belief that the Mets have to focus on “today” while organizational decision-makers are tasked with building their tomorrow. A legendary former Met, once part of the franchise’s tomorrow a lifetime ago, was unequivocal in his certainty that better days lay ahead.
“You have to start trusting in your minor league system. That’s where your real winning is going to come from, if you develop that,” Darryl Strawberry said. He and Mookie Wilson spoke 90 minutes before the game about Gary Carter, whom the organization honored prior to the game. Carter passed away after a lengthy battle with brain cancer on Feb. 16.
“That’s what’s going to have to take place,” Strawberry said. “I think in a couple years this team is going to be pretty good. I think they’re headed in the right direction.”
Carter’s wife, Sandy, daughters Kimmy and Christy and son D.J. unveiled a logo on the left-centerfield wall with the Hall of Famer’s nickname and number on it following a moment of silence. Mets players will wear a patch on their jerseys this season honoring the Hall of Famer. The family threw out the first pitches of the season to Carter’s teammates on the 1980s Mets — Strawberry, Wilson, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling.
Carter was acquired in a five-player trade with the Montreal Expos on Dec. 10, 1984. He hit .249 with 89 homes and 349 RBI in his five years with the Mets. Carter was a four-time All-Star with the Mets, which reached the playoffs twice with him as the franchise’s No. 1 catcher. Carter was inducted into the Mets’ Hall of Fame in 2001. He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.
“He was genuine,” Wilson said of Carter.
“In all [truth] and fairness, I really wish I could have lived like him,” said Strawberry. “I wish I knew what he knew.
“Mr. Carter was a man who was free. Free and happy. He had conquered all the things that he wanted to conquer as a player and as a person. He was real.”
Follow Mets beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.