The minute that it was suggested, New York Mets manager Terry Collins knew exactly which NHL sweater he was pulling off the rack in Midtown Manhattan.
“Growing up in Michigan, I’ve always been a Red Wings’ fan,” said Collins, in his second season as the Mets skipper.
The Mets have planned a series of themed road trips this summer. Meant as team-bonding exercises, the Mets began with Western outfits last month in Houston. The exercises are similar to what the Tampa Bay Rays have done in recent years with their Johnny Cash inspired all-black trip and their pajama party plane parade.
Someone on the Mets came up with the idea of wearing NHL jerseys on the team’s interleague road trip to Toronto last weekend.
Collins, who was a three-sport prep star at Midland High School in the mid-60s, wore a Red Wings home jersey with Pavel Datsyuk
’s No. 13 on the back. The Michigan native, who also managed the Houston Astros and California Angels during his career, wasn’t alone in his Winged Wheel choice as two other members of the Mets’ entourage, pitchers Tim Byrdak and Robert Carson, also donned Wings sweaters for the trip.
“We’ve got a lot of hockey fans on our club,” Collins said. “In spring training we talked about taking themed road trips and one of the guys said, ‘Hey, let’s take a hockey trip when we go to Canada.’ So I told all of the players that they could pick a team and we went to the NHL Store and got the jerseys.”
Many of the 30 NHL teams were represented by the Mets’ players and staff as they got off the team’s bus in front of The Ritz-Carlton in Toronto. But some players chose to go off the grid, like Canadian-born outfielder Jason Bay who went old school with a Hartford Whalers jersey while relief pitcher Jon Rauch went Hollywood in a Syracuse Bulldogs sweater made famous in the classic hockey movie “Slapshot”.
A couple teams still alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs were represented as well with relief pitcher Manny Acosta going with a New York Rangers jersey and catcher Mike Nickeas, who’s one of two Canadians on the big league roster, picking a Los Angeles Kings sweater. All-Star pitcher Johan Santana wore a Minnesota Wild sweater, which isn’t that strange considering that he got his big league career started with the Twins in 2000.
Always a Wings' fan, Collins forged that fanaticism as a student-athlete at Eastern Michigan University where he led the Hurons to the NAIA baseball national championship in 1970. Back then it wasn’t unusual for Collins and his buddies to make the 70-mile round trip to Olympia Stadium several times a season to watch his favorite players, including Gordie Howe.
“I went to a ton of games,” Collins said. “Sid Abel, Ned Harkness and Alex Delvecchio put together some pretty good teams.”
Then there was the unforgettable night when Collins attended a home game against the Montreal Canadiens.
“I remember being surprised by just how big he was,” said Collins, of meeting Howe after the game. “It was a long time ago, almost 40 years. He was an all-time great and he took time out to talk to me. He was 'the guy' and it was an experience I'll never forget.”
So then why a Datsyuk jersey on the Toronto trip?
“I wanted one with a name on the back and (Datsyuk’s) was available,” said Collins, who will turn 63 this Sunday. “They have a lot of great stars. I enjoy watching them play.”Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose