KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Cardinals manager Tony La Russa pantomimes a few swings in short left field as his team takes batting practice, occasionally turning to make a point to Kansas City’s Trey Hillman, who flashes his glove at balls whizzing by.

A night earlier, just an hour before the game, the two opposing managers could be found sitting on a bench atop the Cardinals’ dugout, leaning on the rail, again talking shop.

One of the best minds in baseball history and the most recent member of the exclusive 2,500-win club, La Russa is more than willing to share that knowledge with anyone who’ll listen — as long as they’re serious about the game he loves.

“I know what a manager’s time constraints are during the course of the day and you see him out there sharing, encouraging, asking questions,” Hillman said. “He loves talking about the game. He’s said some very detailed things over the years and he’s always offered to give any advice or answer any questions, no matter how out of bounds other managers might think they are.”

In a career filled with milestones, La Russa passed a big one Sunday against the Royals, joining Connie Mack (3,831) and John McGraw (2,763) as the only managers with 2,500 career victories. Even with his place in history secure and the post-game champagne soaking he took from his players, La Russa still doesn’t see himself in the same league as those two great managers from baseball’s early days.

“I’m not lumped in with them,” said La Russa, his hair mottled and a towel draped over his shoulders after Sunday’s 12-5 win over Kansas City, the NL Central-leading Cardinals’ eighth in 11 games. “I don’t even feel close to them. I don’t think about it that way. I think about the good fortune I’ve had.”

An infielder who bounced between the minors and majors for 16 seasons, La Russa got his start as a big-league manager in 1979, with the Chicago White Sox. He spent 18 seasons in the American League, winning a World Series ring with Oakland in 1989.

Always known as a superb in-game strategist, La Russa has been able to show the full panorama of his lineup-manipulating prowess since becoming the Cardinals’ manager in 1996.

A master of the double switch, working around the pitcher’s spot — all the possibilities the National League offers — La Russa has taken St. Louis to the postseason seven of the past nine years, including a World Series title in 2006 that made him only the second manager to win it all in both leagues.

In 31 big-league seasons, La Russa is 2,500-2,177 and has roughly 500 more victories than any other active manager.

“I think about the good fortune I’ve had,” he said. “The two guys I grew up with I felt were great managers, (Jim) Leyland and Tom Kelly, if they were in my situation, they would have the (2,500 wins) and I would have less. It’s good fortune and I refuse to take it personal.”

That fortune has shaped La Russa’s philosophy toward teaching others.

A manager with his resume could easily stayed up on a pedestal, refused to talk with opposing managers or players, kept all those trade secrets to himself.

Not La Russa.

Like a baseball professor imparting knowledge to his students, he’ll talk to anyone about the game as long as they’re sincere. Search for La Russa before a game, chances are he’ll be around the batting cage, in the dugout or, like he did with Hillman, standing in the outfield, discussing the game that’s been such a big part of his life.

“That’s the way I was raised. A lot of coaches on this club, we were really raised that if you really love the game and you want to learn it, somebody is going to talk to you about it,” he said. “It’s like going to graduate school over the years.”

Hillman has had a few sessions with Professor La Russa.

A rookie in the big leagues last season after 18 years coaching in the minors and Japan, Hillman wasn’t sure what to expect from one of the game’s elder statesmen when he first met La Russa. One they started talking, the managers of the cross-state rivals never really stopped, getting together every chance they get the two times a year their teams meet.

Almost nothing, as long as it’s baseball-related, is off-limits.

“I don’t want to call it surprising, but you don’t know what to expect with a veteran manager when you come into a brand new situation,” Hillman said. “He told me at the beginning of last year: ‘I’ll talk to you about anything. If it’s something I think it’ll give you and edge with, we won’t talk about it.’ But he’s been very forthcoming with his experience.”

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