Yesterday at spring training, New York Mets manager Terry Collins addressed his team as a whole before their first official workout as a team after position players officially reported over the weekend. During his speech to officially kick off the season, Collins was careful to avoid giving his team the label of “underdog”, an identity the Mets have had in the past. It was a reversal from the past, and a tough move to support, but for Collins, it was the right thing to do.
The Mets are definitely underdogs heading into the season. On paper, they are not a strong team, and there is a near consensus among experts that they will finish 4th in the NL East no matter what. But Collins nor the Mets can continue to view themselves as the underdogs. There’s no doubt that a lot of motivation can come from believing you’re the underdog, and a lot of pleasure can be gained by succeeding with that label and proving people wrong. But after some overachieving in the first half the past two seasons, followed by disappointing finishes, the Mets have taken that underdog label as far as they can, and it’s time for a change.
Instead, it’s time for the Mets to start believing that they belong and expecting to perform; and not just as a team, but as individuals. It’s time for Ike Davis to expect to be a gold-glove first baseman and a league leader in home runs. It’s time for Lucas Duda to expect to be able to showcase his power on a regular basis and become a consistent run producer. It’s time for Daniel Murphy to expect to handle his position well and expect to be the well-rounded hitter he’s shown himself to be capable of. It’s time for Bobby Parnell to expect himself to be a late-inning shutdown reliever, instead of just having the potential to do so down the line.
In order to compete this year, the Mets will need just about everything to go right for them. But Collins is right, his players need to expect things to go their way; they need to expect that they’ll be able to play to a level high enough to win games. When underdogs get down, they tend to roll over, and that’s what we’ve seen from the Mets in the second half of seasons under Collins. After all that losing, Collins has had enough, and with his lame duck status heading into the season, he has run out of time. So instead of going with the predictable “underdog” speech this spring, hoping his team will get excited about doing a little better than people think, Collins has gone a different route, giving his team no slack and no excuses, only the expectations to play to the best of their ability. It’s not the conventional move, but for Collins, it’s the right move.