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Collins recalls Duke City

New York Mets manager Terry Collins watches as his team rallies for two runs in the ninth inning of a game against Pittsburgh in June. Collins will be inducted into the Albuquerque Professional Baseball Hall of Fame. (The Associated Press File)
New York Mets manager Terry Collins watches as his team rallies for two runs in the ninth inning of a game against Pittsburgh in June. Collins will be inducted into the Albuquerque Professional Baseball Hall of Fame. (The Associated Press File)
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Terry Collins hasn’t managed a winning team in the big leagues since 1998 and has never led an MLB team to the playoffs, but he did lead a championship team in the minors. And this weekend, thanks in part to that accomplishment, Collins becomes a Hall of Famer in the Duke City.

Collins, a former Albuquerque Dukes manager and player, will be inducted into the Albuquerque Professional Baseball Hall of Fame after Dukes Retro Night on Saturday, when the Isotopes play the Sacramento River Cats at Isotopes Park.

“It’s a great honor,” Collins said. “My gosh, I mean I spent 12 years there. It’s one of my favorite towns I’ve ever been around. It’s a huge honor. Knowing all the great players and people that have gone through Albuquerque baseball-wise, Jesus, it’s tremendous.”

Collins, who is in his fourth season as manager of the New York Mets, played for the Dukes from 1975-78, 1980 and 1984. He managed the Dukes from 1983-88, compiling a record of 388-392 and leading the team to three playoff appearances (1983, ’87, ’88). His 1987 club won the Pacific Coast League Championship.

Collins spent the last six years – including the 1984 season when he played three games while managing the Dukes – of his playing career with Albuquerque. His first gig as a manager came in 1981 with Class-A Lodi in the Dodgers’ organization. He worked his way through Vero Beach and San Antonio before taking over the Dukes midway through the 1983 season.

“I love the city. I love all the people I’ve met. I have great friends there,” Collins said. “When you’re in the minor leagues in Albuquerque, it’s one of those towns that, even though they knew they were a Triple-A town, they loved their team. It was almost like if you got called up to the big leagues, people were mad because you were their player.”

The 65-year-old Collins was born in Midland, Mich., and played at Eastern Michigan University. He was drafted in the 19th round of the 1971 MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and played in the minors until 1980. Collins never reached the majors as a player but has managed three MLB teams – the Houston Astros (1994-96), the Anaheim Angels (1997-99) and the Mets since 2011. Including the Mets’ 45 wins through the All-Star break this season, Collins has won 733 games as a manager in MLB – 86th most in the history of baseball. Only 12 other managers have won as many games without making a trip to the postseason.

Albuquerque Dukes manager Terry Collins receives balloons from a fan before a game at the old Sports Stadium in 1987.  (Journal File)

Albuquerque Dukes manager Terry Collins receives balloons from a fan before a game at the old Sports Stadium in 1987. (Journal File)

Collins still has fond memories of the old Sports Stadium, which was demolished in 2001 to make way for Isotopes Park. And the stadium and the city made an impression on at least one of Collins’ former colleagues in the majors.

“It was a great place to play,” Collins said. “I haven’t been to the new stadium; I hear it’s gorgeous. But even the old stadium was a place everyone wanted to come and play in. It was a great experience.

“(Former Philadelphia Phillies manager) Charlie Manuel and I played together there in 1975, and every time we get together that’s all we talk about are the days of being in Albuquerque.”

Joining Collins in the Class of 2014 will be Orel Hershiser, who pitched for Collins in 1983, and Von Joshua, who was on Collins’ coaching staff in 1988.

“Orel Hershiser one of these days ought to be heading for the (Baseball) Hall of Fame, and Von was a tremendous minor league player and coached for me in Albuquerque,” Collins said. “The fact that there’s been so many great baseball players go through there, players, managers, coaches, it’s an honor to be even mentioned in the same breath as those guys.”

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