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Leading his Cavalry charges with a laid-back gait

Date

David Polkinghorne

Canberra Cavalry manager Michael Collins.

Canberra Cavalry manager Michael Collins. Photo: Graham Tidy

Two years ago Michael Collins led the Australian Baseball League batting averages, now he's leading the Canberra Cavalry charge to their first Championship Series as their manager.

In his first season in charge of the Cavs, Collins has taken them from back-to-back wooden spoons to hosting the ABL's equivalent of the World Series.

Best described as ''cool, calm and collected'', Collins was quick to deflect any praise, but his players were just as quick to attribute their success to his leadership.

Canberra catcher Jack Murphy had no doubt ''Tubby'' Collins was the reason the Cavalry had finished the season on top of the ladder. He said Collins' laid-back approach meant the dugout was never tense.

''A lot of the success of the Cavalry has to do with the management style of Tubby,'' Murphy said. ''If the other team gets out to an early lead he doesn't press, he's not yelling, he's in there relaxed, he's positive and that translates to us having a lot of comeback wins over the course of the season.''

At 28, Collins should still be playing. He spent 10 seasons playing in the minor leagues, eight years with the Los Angeles Angels and then the San Diego Padres, managing a handful of games at class AAA - the level below the Major League.

But the Padres cut him in 2010 and he returned to Canberra to play for the Cavalry, when he led the league with a batting average of .360.

His outstanding season wasn't enough to earn an MLB reprieve and he was left to consider his future.

The independent leagues were an obvious option to stay involved in the game he loved, but the Padres opened another door.

Throughout his career, his coaches had told him he'd make a good manager and the Padres wanted him to coach their Dominican Summer League team.

Last year they made him the manager and when Cavalry inaugural manager Steve Schrenk decided against returning this season, Collins found himself in charge.

He says he gets a different enjoyment out of managing - rather than just worrying about his own performance, he is now concerned with everyone's.

Collins has tried to create a ''fun'' atmosphere to allow his charges to play at their best.

While he didn't make it to the Majors as a player, he hoped he could get there as a manager.

''I thought I could still play, but I also realised that the opportunities aren't always there and the opportunity to coach came along and it's a good little stepping stone and I really enjoyed it so I continued with that,'' Collins said.

''Hopefully if I can be successful I can continue as a manager for ever.''

A serious back injury in 2008 threatened to end his career even earlier.

After playing through pain he was eventually diagnosed with a bulging disc in his spine and had surgery.

Collins still goes to the gym every day to help manage the problem.

While admitting it was a factor in ending his career, he said it wasn't the only reason his playing days were over.

Despite the injury and the uncertainty after being delisted, Collins said there were never any dark times about losing his dream.

His fiancee, Liz Reycroft, said that wasn't Collins' style.

The pair met while Reycroft was studying at Arizona State College nine years ago and they will get married in November.

She's been there for most of his career and said his personality lent itself perfectly to managing.

''He's really not that kind of guy [to get too down],'' Reycroft said.

''… It sounds really cliched but he's just a really likeable guy.

''I think a lot of people respect him, even though he's so young, he gets a lot of respect and he knows the game.''

When Collins returns to the US later this year, he will take over the Padres' Arizona Summer League team - the level up from the Dominican league.

But first his focus is on leading the Cavalry to their first championship.

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