"In 13 days I learned a ton," Mientkiewicz said. "I asked questions of the kids and once I developed some rapport I gained their trust. Those kids didn't know I played. They didn't know who I was, and that was great. If you can connect when they don't know you, it'll be even better when they know what you've done."
Mientkiewicz, a favorite of former Dodgers manager Joe Torre, made the Dodgers in 2009 as a non-roster addition only to have that season interrupted by shoulder surgery after 20 games. His 2010 season ended before it began when he was released out of Spring Training. He then went to Triple-A for the Marlins, but his chances for a callup were dashed when Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez was dismissed. When no clubs came calling in 2011, he accepted retirement.
"I was good with it," he said. "Jodi [his wife] took me to a Dodgers-Marlins game and Donnie [Mattingly] told me not to wait too long to get back in. [Dodgers general manager] Ned [Colletti] had told me to let him know if I wanted to coach, and we exchanged some emails and talked. I wanted to be sure that if I came back, I wouldn't miss playing. I didn't want to pull a Rocco Baldelli or Gabe Kapler [who retired, and then returned as players]."
He said that his transition to instructor was accelerated in 2009, when he spent most of the season rehabilitating his shoulder.
"That was like a head start for me," he said. "I was still in the dugout, but I saw the game from a different perspective. It turned out that I was more transitioned than I thought I'd be. There's still a lot that I don't know. But it helps to know what the demands are on the big league level, to know the GM. Most of the instructors I already knew. Juan Castro was there. It was like retirement week for us. Bruce Hines was the coordinator and Jody Reed, Eric Owens, John Valentin and Matt Herges were there teaching. It was easy to feel comfortable."
Mientkiewicz said that he worked in Arizona with Dodgers farmhands Angelo Songco, Joc Pederson and Alex Santana, among others, and was impressed with the players as well as the staff approach.
"It was businesslike, but they had fun," he said. "I was really impressed with the way they ran it, the attention to detail. Ned has the right idea. He wants a solid, winning style, and in the Minor Leagues that doesn't happen overnight. You can draft talent, but you also have to teach how to win, and it's not about the individual numbers. The second week of games was "Win Week." It was like the playoffs, and that whets the appetite and the kids want more. It's a clever idea."