LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Terry Collins last led a big league team more than 11 years ago, the landscape of professional baseball was different. Managing games was different. Managing players was different. Managing media was different.

So it was only natural that Collins' eyes flashed curiously -- or was it nervously? -- upon greeting a throng of roughly 30 reporters Monday at the Winter Meetings. It lasted merely a moment, but it was there, unmistakable. Then it was gone.

"I've been doing this for 40 years," Collins said. "This is my passion in life, so nothing will ever stand in the way."

There will, of course, be challenges to come for Collins, perhaps more for him than for any other big league manager. In his first season at the helm of the Mets, Collins must deal with a carefully-budgeted roster while also navigating the perils of big-market baseball. He must not only prove that his unhappy endings in Houston and Anaheim will not repeat themselves, but he must do so with largely the same roster that lost 175 games over the past two seasons.

He must, in short, jolt the Mets with optimism -- and then hope for some luck.

"I've got to keep Carlos Beltran on the field," Collins said. "I've got to keep Jason Bay on the field, and David Wright and Jose Reyes. If we keep that core eight guys, if we can get 145 games out of each of those guys, we're going to be in good shape. So that's going to be the challenge."

He likens this situation with the Mets to the one he inherited in Anaheim 14 years ago. Like the Mets, those Angels were coming off some relatively recent success. Like the Mets, those Angels had been shaken by some even more recent struggles.

Though Collins succeeded at first in Anaheim, the Angels collapsed down the stretch in his final season, leading to a series of clubhouse issues and, eventually, a player petition to dismiss Collins from his post. He resigned instead, then didn't land another managing gig for nearly a dozen years.

"I wasn't sure I'd get another shot, to be honest," Collins said.

But this is his shot, here and now. Former general manager Omar Minaya provided the foundation of the opportunity last year, when he asked Collins to be his Minor League field coordinator. New general manager Sandy Alderson furthered it last month, when he asked Collins to interview. And now the issues that have plagued the Mets are Collins' to solve.

He doesn't know if he can keep Reyes healthy, but he's going to try. He doesn't know if Beltran can better serve the Mets in center field or right, but he's going to work with the three-time Gold Glover to find the answer. He doesn't know if Johan Santana will be healthy, if R.A. Dickey will remain rejuvenated, if Bay can again become a threat.

All he knows is that he's managing a big-market team with a real chance for success -- if not now, then perhaps in the near future.

And for that he is thankful.

"Had Omar not called me, I'd probably be playing golf today," Collins said. "But here I sit. I owe that to Omar for giving me another opportunity, and certainly Sandy and the group here that gave me the chance to interview for the job. I'm certainly honored by it all."