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Ben Smith

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Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
TinCaps manager Michael Collins comes to Fort Wayne from Australia where he was the manager of the Canberra Cavalry.

Chasing the dream now as a manager

– Nine thousand, five-hundred eleven miles. Plus half a mile.

And here is Michael Collins this last day of March, all those miles and a half mile more from home, settling into an office full of echoes. There’s still a navy duffle bag with an interlocking “SD” on the floor. There’s still a lot of strangeness to sweep out of the corners and into the hallway. There’s one TV guy and another TV guy and another TV guy, and then this guy with a tape recorder, bearing a little weather info.

“Don’t get used to this,” he warns.

That’s because the mercury’s going door-handle-to-door-handle with 60 degrees out there, and the sun is shining, and spring is behaving like spring for once. But tomorrow or the next day it’ll be cold and nasty again, and all our preconceptions will vanish like smoke.

Which brings us back to those 9,511.5 miles, and Michael Collins.

That’s how far he’s come from his hometown of Canberra, Australia, to Fort Wayne as the new manager of the TinCaps, and if that sounds like an epic journey, it really isn’t. He is, for one thing, only 29 years old – it’s no great stretch to imagine him down the hallway in the clubhouse with the players – and looks it, so it’s obvious the long road from Canberra to here hasn’t taken all that terribly long.

Four seasons ago, in fact, he was still a catcher in the Padres’ system, playing for four different teams during the 2010 season. After that summer, he went back to Australia to play for the Canberra Cavalry in the Australian baseball league; that season he batted .360 to lead the ABL.

Two winters later, he was managing the team. Last summer, he managed the Padres’ Arizona League team. Last fall, he managed the Padres’ Dominican League affiliate.

Now he’s here, having never plotted such a course.

“No, no, no,” says Collins, the youngest manager in franchise history. “I definitely set out hoping to be a major league player. I chased that dream as long as I could.

“Toward the end, I had a couple coaches who said, ‘Hey, you’d make a good coach or a manager some day.’ And I brushed it off as any player probably would. And then the last couple years or last year, I started to think about it a little bit more. I knew I wanted to stay in the game. And it’s the same thing, just a different view, I guess.”

The temptation is to say his view has been different all along, having been raised in what a lot of people still consider a baseball hinterland. But that’s not true and hasn’t been for a while.

“There’s plenty of scouts in Australia,” Collins says. “I think the majority of (MLB) clubs are represented in Australia, or at least the top clubs have eyes and ears on the ground. There’s plenty of opportunities.”

Collins got turned on to the game by a friend. That led to club and tournament ball and that led to him being discovered by one of those scouts, and that landed him in the States – and, eventually, Fort Wayne by way of Canberra, where he won the ABL title in 2011.

“That was awesome,” he said. “That was a big learning experience. It’s such a short season, 45 games, so every game counts, every situation matters. Basically every game is almost like playoff-style baseball. So that was a great learning experience.”

This will be another one, given that he’s managing one of the most successful franchises in the minor leagues.

“You know, as a player, I was always fairly organized myself,” Collins says. “I knew what I wanted to do, what I needed to do.

“Now I’m trying to make sure that 25 players are taken care of, that they know what they’re going to do.”

Let the journey begin.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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