I've known our manager, John Russell, for a long time. He's the reason I'm with Pittsburgh this year.

Of all the changes made by this club, none was bigger than bringing in John. With John, everything starts new. He's stressed that this year has nothing to do with 1997, and our young guys in particular are buying into that approach. It's a very positive message, always looking ahead rather than behind.

John brings a ton of knowledge to this job. He has a quiet, under-control approach, and players know he always has your back. Sometimes it seems like he has more confidence in you as a player than you have in yourself.

I've played for some of the best managers in the game, and he's close to the best at running a game.

John managed me in the Minor Leagues when I was coming up with Minnesota. I knew back then that he had the makings of a big league manager. He picks up on stuff quickly and he's not afraid to make mistakes. He is also not afraid to learn from his mistakes, which is a great quality. He played with a lot of great players, he coached in the minors along with some great coaches -- Tom Kelly included -- and he caught Nolan Ryan. He has a ton of knowledge in him.

John reminds me a lot of Joe Torre, my manager in New York. Joe is always under control, and nothing seems to overwhelm him. I always admired Joe when I was playing against the Yankees and I always wondered what it would be like to play for him. I'm glad I had the opportunity.

As a player, you always knew Joe was 100 percent behind you, too. I think he's gotten the best out of every guy he has managed because when you go out on the field, you not only respect him so much, but you know he has your back. He is a Hall of Fame manager and he was nearly a Hall of Fame player. I feel very lucky to have played for him.

I also had the chance to play in Boston under Terry Francona, who doesn't get enough credit for the job he's done with the Red Sox. He lets his players be individuals, but he kept us together as a team. I'll never forget how well he handled being down three games to none against the Yankees in 2004. He just said "win today," and that made a lot of sense to us. While it sounds so simple, it kept us from getting caught up in the enormity of the challenge. We focused on one at-bat at a time.

As for myself, I could never be a manager. There is no chance of that ever happening. I'm too emotional. I would get thrown out of a game every week. I could coach for John maybe, but I couldn't manage.

Veteran first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, now with Pittsburgh, entered the season a career .271 hitter with 64 home runs and 372 RBIs as well as a .996 fielding percentage.