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Crash Davis
04-20-2006, 10:37 PM
http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/sports/baseball/mlb/kansas_city_royals/14382742.htm?source=rss&channel=kansascity_kansas_city_royals

Greinke takes step toward mound

By WRIGHT THOMPSON
The Kansas City Star

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Zack Greinke is alone, something that seems to both comfort and frighten him. The normally busy baseball facility has gone silent. Just green grass and brown dirt and white chalk — the simple things that have always drawn him to the game.

When the young Royals pitcher speaks, his voice is quiet but strong. “Most people who have my problem have it when they’re by themselves,” he says.

For all of his 22 years, Greinke has been a man defined by two powerful but disconnected traits. He is a phenomenal baseball player, but at the same time he is emotionally unequipped to handle everything that comes with playing at the highest level.

Small talk always eluded him. Locker rooms, clubhouses and crowds made him uncomfortable. He felt out of place everywhere but the mound. Then, two months ago, he felt lost there, too. During one spring-training bullpen session, everything spilled out, forcing him to finally deal with longstanding emotional issues.

“The way I was throwing,” he says, “it wasn’t me throwing. I couldn’t throw a strike. I couldn’t think about throwing a strike. I couldn’t focus. And I had the worst bullpen of my life one day, and the next time I was trying to throw my arm off just because I was going crazy. I was throwing everything 100 miles per hour. That’s when I was like, I can’t keep doing this.”

Greinke went home to Orlando needing a break. Now, after his self-imposed exile, he’s back. He gets up and goes to work at extended spring training, trying to become an elite pitcher again and retake control of his mind. General manager Allard Baird has come to realize the challenge that Greinke faces every morning just to make himself come to a clubhouse.

“I will tell you this,” Baird says. “What he has done to address this is, to me, one of the most courageous things I’ve ever seen.”

From an early age, Greinke didn’t know what to do with empty spaces. Even during Little League, he hated to arrive at the ballpark a half-hour before games. He never seemed to know what to do or say.

“I knew there was something wrong with me,” he says, “but I never thought about going to see anyone to talk about it.”

He gravitated toward solitary pursuits. Even today, he loves golf, fishing and mountain climbing. High above Phoenix, where he likes to trek, he can look down on everyone else, happy up near the clouds.

Growing up, there were signs. As about an 8-year-old tennis player, with a 50-0 record, he finally got beat. It was the only tournament match he lost, and he said it’s the last one he played.

“I lost on purpose,” he says. “I had problems; I’d get real nervous before the games. The last time, I got so nervous and I was like, ‘Dad, I can’t play anymore.’ I was going crazy thinking I was gonna lose. I got so nervous I ended up hitting every ball straight into the net. The second set, I was loose and I beat the guy like 6-2. I ended up quitting in the last one. I hit them into the net again.”

Still, his athletic talent came to define him to the outside world. His emotional issues became quirks. The Royals selected him in the first round of the 2002 draft. Dubbed the future, he rose through the minors, landing with a big-league club that was in dire need of pitching.

He had a successful 2004 season but faltered a bit in 2005. By the time he got to spring training earlier this year and couldn’t throw a bullpen session, he’d come to a crossroads. He couldn’t fake fitting in any longer. Things he’d once adored meant little.

“I really like when the sun is setting,” he says. “I was here in Arizona, and it was one of the prettiest days out and the sun was setting, and I was like, ‘I don’t care; I don’t even want to look at it right now. It doesn’t do anything for me.’ That was one moment where I was like: What’s wrong with me?”

He left camp, and as the plane took off for home, a weight lifted off his shoulders. He felt free, for the first time in ages. But soon, he realized that his problems existed inside himself, not in any clubhouse.

Now, two days into his comeback, sitting in a conference room in Surprise, he touches his pitching arm.

“I wouldn’t give up this thing for anything,” he says. “I love it. But also, the problem I have isn’t going to bother me just if I play baseball. It’s gonna bother me no matter what I’m doing. That’s one thing I realized when I left and started talking to some people. I realized that it’s not just at the baseball field that it’s like this.

“Whatever I do in life, it’s gonna bother me.”

Greinke looks good. His blue eyes are bright. He says that he feels better and that he owes everything to the team officials who, in his moment of need, treated him like a human being first. That has taught him baseball can be more than a job.

“I couldn’t have done this without Allard, (manager) Buddy (Bell) and my parents,” he says. “They’ve done so much more than they needed to do or should have done. I’m still amazed by it. When I left, I thought they’d just kick me out the door. The way they’ve done it, I wasn’t expecting it. It’s just been incredible.”

Wednesday afternoon, standing in the empty lobby of the Royals’ spring-training facility, Greinke makes a point of saying how supportive his teammates have been. When he left, he was worried that he’d burned too many bridges. Their calls have meant the world.

“I’ve treated a lot of them like crap, because I felt so miserable that I acted rude to everyone,” he says. “I was taking it out on people I was friends with. The way I was doing it, it was out of control.”

Greinke doesn’t claim to have a miracle cure. Each day is a profound challenge. When Baird professes pride in what the pitcher has been able to do, Greinke refuses to celebrate moral victories. There’s no time to be proud yet.

“If I get better, I will be,” he says. “If not, it will all be a waste of time. At least I’m trying; that’s kinda cool. If it doesn’t get better, then I’m gonna have problems for a long time.”

Since arriving in Arizona on Monday, he’s worked out, easing back into it. They’re taking it slow. Greinke is trying to feel at home.

He’s not there yet.

“I don’t feel right in the clubhouse,” he says. “I’m pretty much comfortable everywhere besides here. … I’m not ready to throw a bullpen yet. I don’t know how long it will be. I would assume it would be pretty soon.”

There’s no schedule or projected return date. Just hope.

“This is a process,” Baird says. “It’s gonna take some time. No one knows how much time. He’s taking steps to move forward. Is he better now than what he was? Yes. There’s no doubt about that. But it’s a day-to-day approach. The focus is for him as a person. Today brings tomorrow, and tomorrow brings the next day.”

So with only today in front of him, and with Baird and an organization behind him, Greinke walks down the sidewalk toward the clubhouse. He pauses for a moment, then goes through the open door.

“I’m not afraid to play baseball,” he says.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
To reach Wright Thompson, sports reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-4856 or send e-mail to wthompson@kcstar.com.

TC81190
04-20-2006, 10:41 PM
Huh....I wonder what IS bothering Zack.

Crash Davis
04-20-2006, 10:48 PM
Total speculation, but there are some hints of Asperger's Syndrome:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger%27s_syndrome

SteelSD
04-20-2006, 10:55 PM
Total speculation, but there are some hints of Asperger's Syndrome:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger%27s_syndrome

Maybe, but if I had to throw a dart at a board, I'd aim at nonincapacitating agoraphobia.

Caseyfan21
04-20-2006, 11:32 PM
Wierd situation. I hope he can get the help he needs and get his personal life back in order first. If he can come back and be a major league pitcher that's just icing on the cake. It sounds like he has the right support system so hopefully he can make it back.

dougdirt
04-20-2006, 11:55 PM
I wish all the best for Zach and his family, I hope he gets everything straightened out in his life.

oneupper
04-21-2006, 07:01 AM
I'm thinking Social Anxiety Disorder.

Blimpie
04-21-2006, 08:59 AM
I'm thinking Social Anxiety Disorder.Yep. I'm thinking this guy doing interviews in the locker room with his helmet on (but without the dime bags....)

http://images.moviso.com/mp3s/images/yourmobile/images/voicemail/ricky_williams_artist_240.jpg

Sad story for both Greinke AND the Royals. They were outscored by something like 50 runs during their 10 game losing streak. To say they are anticipating his return would be a profound understatement.

Heath
04-21-2006, 09:28 AM
And I was going to blame it on a bad break-up.

Some guys can do it, some just can't.

Blimpie
04-21-2006, 10:19 AM
And I was going to blame it on a bad break-up.

Some guys can do it, some just can't.


You just reminded me of the Seinfeld episode when Elaine dated the "Bad Breakup Guy." :D

When he learned it was over with his woman, he would immediately begin trashing her to her face. I think once Elaine dumped him, he began ragging on her big forehead...

RedsManRick
04-21-2006, 11:40 AM
As somebody who has dealt/deals with similar issues and is a similar age & stage in life, I have a lot of sympathy for the kid. So often we view atheletes as these robots who just go out and perform. I hope he's able to find a way to cope with his issues and go on to make use of his talent.

Unassisted
04-21-2006, 11:48 AM
It's great that his club is supporting him. What the article doesn't say is whether he's getting professional help. It sounds like he's getting space rather than help. Clearly he needs some help sorting out his issues and getting a diagnosis.

westofyou
04-30-2009, 10:07 AM
Sports Illustrated puts Zack Greinke on the cover.


Greinke is the first Royals player to appear on the cover since pitcher David Cone on April 5, 1993 for the magazine’s preview to the upcoming baseball season. The last Royals player to appear on an in-season cover was outfielder Bo Jackson on June 12, 1989.

I guess that says something about the success of the Royals over the last 20 years.
http://baseballmusings.com/


http://www.sharapovasthigh.com/2009/04/zack-greinke-has-admirable-story-not.html



I've gotten tired of hearing about the "hero" Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton is. Yeah I'm happy for him that he overcame drug addiction, became a 2008 All-Star and MVP candidate, and put on a show in the 2008 Home Run Derby, but come on now.

You can be a crack addict, but if you stop doing it and become somebody worthwhile, you're a hero! But then the guy that stays out of trouble, just goes about his job, wins an MVP, well he's just a great baseball player, but far from a "hero". At least that's how the media portrays it. Who has been glorified by the media more in the last year, Josh Hamilton or Dustin Pedroia?

Josh Hamilton got an "ESPN Homecoming" interview with Rick Reilly, honoring Hamilton at his former high school for what he has gone through and now accomplished. There's a program running on MLB Network all the time now, called "Josh Hamilton: Resurrecting the Dream".

It's an effort to make all of the people that screwed up badly feel like they can still become something, and they can of course, but they shouldn't be praised for it if they do. They put themselves in those positions. It's sending the wrong message.

To me there's a much more admirable story that we haven't heard nearly as much about. Kansas City Royals pitcher Zack Greinke is 3-0, has a complete game shutout, 26 strikeouts, and has not allowed a single run in 20 innings pitched thus far in 2009. He's been simply dominating and was just named AL Player of the Week(sharing the award with Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler).

If you're understandably saying, "Well it's just been three games", he was great in 2008 as well. He went 13-10(on a 75-win Royals team) with a 3.47 ERA, 183 strikeouts, and just 56 walks in 202.1 innings pitched. That's pretty darn good for a guy that was just 24 years old last season.

It's even more impressive when you consider where he was just a few years ago. Greinke was the first round selection(sixth overall) of the Royals in 2002 after being awarded the Gatorade National Player of the Year award for his high school dominance. He followed that up with a 15-4 record and a 1.93 ERA in his first season of minor league baseball, and was named The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year.

In 2004 at the age of 20, he made his major league debut and ended up starting 24 games with the Royals, putting up a 3.97 ERA. He was living up to the incredible hype after being a first round draft pick and the top prospect in the Royals organization. He was a phenom and it didn't appear that it would be a question of if he could be a top of the rotation starter, but when.

However, in 2005 he struggled mightily. He won just 5 games, led the American League in losses with 17, and had an ERA of 5.80. He gave up a whopping 233 hits in 183 innings, and struck out just 114.

Something clearly wasn't right. He was too talented to be getting hit this hard and it certainly hadn't been a problem in his first season in the majors. The Royals couldn't figure out what exactly was going on. There had to be more to this that wasn't just showing up on the radar gun readings or in his mechanics.

It turned out Greinke had been battling depression and dealing with social anxiety disorder. Sports Illustrated's John Donovan described what exactly Greinke was going through in a 2007 article:

But behind all the promise, Greinke was being crushed by a nearly debilitating case of depression and constant bouts of social anxiety, illnesses that had plagued him for much of his life. Even during his short stint in the minors, he struggled with his depression, entertaining thoughts of quitting a game he had grown to despise. He pitched on, though, and in 2005 he lost 17 games, deepening his depression and hatred of the game.

Last February, during a wild throwing session with catcher John Buck at the team's spring training complex here on the outskirts of Phoenix, he broke down completely. Afterward, he unburdened himself to Bell and the team's general manager at the time, Allard Baird, then missed almost the entire season as he sought psychological help.



Greinke pitched only six innings in 2006, and was placed on the 60-day disabled list to deal with his psychological struggles. As Donovan alluded to, Greinke had reached a point where he wasn't enjoying the game anymore, and that really became the case when he struggled in 2005. I played baseball from the age of four throughout high school and I know what that's all about.

After playing the game for so long there comes a point where you're just not having as much fun anymore. You've been doing it your whole life and when you're at a highly competitive level, it can feel like something you're almost being forced to do, rather than that fun game you loved to death in little league. You start to worry and it becomes a thinking game, instead of just going out and having fun. I realized I needed to get back to that, and I did. My performance went up as a result.

In 2007 after constantly getting help and working hard to overcome social anxiety disorder and depression, Greinke got back on the baseball field and had fun again. He went 7-7 with a 3.69 ERA, working mainly out of the bullpen but did make 14 starts. He was blowing hitters away with his high 90s fastball and buckling their knees with his filthy curveball again, pitching with a swagger he had lost for a couple years. Since the results have just gotten better and better, and most importantly, Greinke's feeling better and better.

The difference between the situations of Greinke and Hamilton is that Greinke didn't choose for this to happen. If you haven't dealt with a lot of depression or anxiety in your life, you're a special and lucky person I guess. And how do a lot of people choose to deal with depression and anxiety? Plenty of alcohol consumption and/or drug use. It's likely this was how Hamilton chose to handle such situations in the past, and heck, I've certainly been known to drink away my sorrows on occasion.

However, I'm not going to expect you to praise me if I become a complete alcoholic(don't worry, not going to happen) and then do something significant. I would be putting myself in that mess.

Zack Greinke didn't, and when he's pitching in this year's Midsummer Classic and quite possibly winning a Cy Young award in the near future, he better be getting every bit as much as love as Josh Hamilton has. He deserves a lot more.

penantboundreds
04-30-2009, 11:34 AM
I'm not a real big fan of that article. Why bring Hamilton into the picture at all, the two are totally different and they both have obvious diseases, good for both of them but to leverage them against each other is kind of silly and disrespectful to each of them. Just my opinion, maybe and probably I am over reacting but that kind of strikes a nerve with me.

Oh well, good for him, he's having one hell of a year.

OnBaseMachine
04-30-2009, 11:40 AM
I think Greinke had a streak of 38 consecutive shutout innings and 43 innings of 0 ER allowed until his last start. That's the closest I can remember a starting pitcher getting to Orel Hershiser's 59 consecutive shutout innings record.

blumj
04-30-2009, 11:47 AM
I'm not a real big fan of that article. Why bring Hamilton into the picture at all, the two are totally different and they both have obvious diseases, good for both of them but to leverage them against each other is kind of silly and disrespectful to each of them. Just my opinion, maybe and probably I am over reacting but that kind of strikes a nerve with me.

Oh well, good for him, he's having one hell of a year.
Plus, nobody's been more glorified by the media over the past year than Dustin Pedroia.

SMcGavin
04-30-2009, 05:33 PM
I'm not a real big fan of that article. Why bring Hamilton into the picture at all, the two are totally different and they both have obvious diseases, good for both of them but to leverage them against each other is kind of silly and disrespectful to each of them. Just my opinion, maybe and probably I am over reacting but that kind of strikes a nerve with me.

Oh well, good for him, he's having one hell of a year.

I'm actually in full agreement with the author. When Hamilton was a crack addict, he had a disease. When he first started doing drugs, it was his choice. Greinke's disease didn't come about because of a conscious choice he made.

They're both great stories, and I don't think it's undermining what Hamilton accomplished to say that Greinke is the more sympathetic character.

Jpup
05-01-2009, 05:20 AM
The guy that wrote that article is a moron. Josh Hamilton is a "hero" of mine and his has absolutely nothing to do with being a crack addict or even a baseball player really.

westofyou
05-06-2009, 11:38 AM
http://joeposnanski.com/JoeBlog/2009/05/05/greinke-fun-facts/


Ten things to know about Zack Greinke.

1. Zack Greinke has a 1173 ERA+. I would wager than no pitcher in baseball history has had a 1173 ERA+ through six games.

2. There have been two complete game shutouts thrown in the American League this year. Greinke threw both of them. That makes for a fun “Shutouts” chart on Baseball Reference.

3. There have been eight complete games thrown in the American League. Greinke has three of them.

4. Greinke currently leads the league in wins, ERA, ERA+, shutouts, complete games, strikeouts, WHIP and he has not yet allowed a home run.

5. The league is hitting .242/.294/.337 against him with nobody on base.

But the league is hitting .109/.136/.125 against him with runners on base.

And the league is hitting .097/.097/.097 against him with runners in scoring position.

6. Greinke’s strikeout-to-walk ratio with runners in scoring position — 14-to-0.

7. Batters are hitting .171 against Greinke in the seventh inning and after.

8. Greinke has fallen behind 3-0 to a hitter only four times all year. He did not walk any of the four. He struck out two of them.

9. Greinke’s 0.40 ERA is so low, he could give up nine runs in an inning in his next start, get pulled, and his ERA STILL would be lower than 2.00.

10. This from brilliant reader Rob: Dating back to last year, Greinke has won nine consecutive starts, and in those nine starts he has an 0.69 ERA. How good is that? Well, legendary. There have been 50 pitches since 1954 who have won nine or more consecutive starts. Greinke’s is the second-best.*

*The best of those by ERA?

1. Bob Gibson, 1968: 12-0, 0.50 ERA.
Note for posterity: Gibson completed all 12 of those games.

2. Zack Greinke, 2008-09: 9-0, 0.69 ERA

3. Steve Blass, 1968: 9-0, 0.70 ERA

4. Hoyt Wilhelm, 1959: 9-0, 0.79 ERA

5. Cal Eldred, 1992: 10-0, 0.95 ERA
Note for posterity: In 1997, Eldred led the league in losses.

6. John Tudor, 1985: 9-0, 0.97 ERA

7. Warren Spahn, 1961: 10-0, 0.99 ERA

8. Gaylord Perry, 1974: 11-0, 1.00 ERA
Note for posterity: I’m in Cleveland right now reminiscing about Perry’s amazing 1974. Only July 3, he was 15-1 with a 1.31 ERA. He seemed a legit threat to win 30 games. He promptly lost nine of his next 10 decisions.

9. Randy Johnson, 1999-00, 9-0, 1.09 ERA
Note for posterity: You know, there’s a case to be made that Randy Johnson is the greatest pitcher in baseball history. This is just a warning … that case might be coming.

10. Roy Oswalt, 2002, 9-0, 1.22 ERA.

Also worth pointing out Johan Santana’s 12-0, 1.28 ERA stretch in 2004, Pat Dobson’s 12-0, 1.77 ERA stretch in 1971 and Brad Radke’s 12-0, 1.87 ERA stretch in 1997.

And one more thing … remember when Bob Welch won 27 games in 1990? Well, he won 9 decisions in a row in the middle of that year. His ERA during the stretch — 3.59. Boy, that team scored a lot of runs for him.

Chip R
05-06-2009, 11:54 AM
What's bothering Zach Greinke?

Certainly not opposing hitters.

Mario-Rijo
05-06-2009, 12:01 PM
I'm not a real big fan of that article. Why bring Hamilton into the picture at all, the two are totally different and they both have obvious diseases, good for both of them but to leverage them against each other is kind of silly and disrespectful to each of them. Just my opinion, maybe and probably I am over reacting but that kind of strikes a nerve with me.

Oh well, good for him, he's having one hell of a year.

Absolutely agree. Walk a mile in Josh Hamilton's old shoes and tell me how much of it was a "choice". I applaud Grienke for handling things the way he has however bad decision to compare him to Hamilton.

kaldaniels
05-06-2009, 01:09 PM
Absolutely agree. Walk a mile in Josh Hamilton's old shoes and tell me how much of it was a "choice". I applaud Grienke for handling things the way he has however bad decision to compare him to Hamilton.

I love Josh Hamilton, but I do take exception to it not being a choice. Josh chose to get off the highway at the exit that leads to drug addiction. What happened from there is an ethical debate, I realize.

No sense comparing these 2 cases though, apples and oranges.

Mario-Rijo
05-06-2009, 01:21 PM
I love Josh Hamilton, but I do take exception to it not being a choice. Josh chose to get off the highway at the exit that leads to drug addiction. What happened from there is an ethical debate, I realize.

No sense comparing these 2 cases though, apples and oranges.

I get what you are saying, I really do but I disagree. I have seen both sides of the argument and it's just not that simple.

TheNext44
05-06-2009, 01:52 PM
I love Josh Hamilton, but I do take exception to it not being a choice. Josh chose to get off the highway at the exit that leads to drug addiction. What happened from there is an ethical debate, I realize.

No sense comparing these 2 cases though, apples and oranges.

It is very hard to sympathize with addicts for this very reason.

However...

Drug addicts choose that exit as you put it, but many choose it due to circumstances that they don't choose. I had a friend who became an addict to deal with being abused by her father. If I am not mistaken, Hamilton started using to deal with his parents being in a near death car accident. Definitely bad choices, but in these cases, it wasn't like they choose it just for the fun of it. As Mario-Rijo put it, it's not always that simple.

As for the article, just a really poorly written article, which is a shame since the Greinke story is such a good one. What happened to SI?

RedEye
05-06-2009, 02:42 PM
Perhaps there will soon be a movie called What's Bothering Zack Greinke?

I think Johnny Depp would be good in the role.

westofyou
05-06-2009, 03:16 PM
I
As for the article, just a really poorly written article, which is a shame since the Greinke story is such a good one. What happened to SI?

The Hamilton one was from a blog

TexasDave adds this to Joe's list


Fernando Valenzuela had a pretty impressive start to his career. In his first seven starts in 1981 he had five complete game shutouts. Another complete game in which he had given up just one ER. And in his other start he left with the game tied after giving up just one ER in nine innings. After his first seven starts in 1981 he had a 0.29 ERA. In 63 IP he gave up just 40 HITS 0 HR 4 2B 0 3B. He walked 16 and had struck out 61. Add this to his September debut in which he had a 0.00 ERA in 17 plus innings and at that point in his career Fernando had pitched 80 2/3 innings with an ERA of 0.22. He had given up just 48 Hits 0 HR 21 BB and 77 K. Of course not as many runs scored back then, but that is still a pretty amazing start to a career. I would bet that after those first seven starts in 1981 that Fernando's ERA+ was over 1173.

durl
05-06-2009, 03:17 PM
I'm not a real big fan of that article. Why bring Hamilton into the picture at all, the two are totally different and they both have obvious diseases, good for both of them but to leverage them against each other is kind of silly and disrespectful to each of them. Just my opinion, maybe and probably I am over reacting but that kind of strikes a nerve with me.

Oh well, good for him, he's having one hell of a year.

I agree. While I do wonder if the word "hero" is used a little too often, Hamilton's struggle to overcome his addictions is an example to many out there who have slipped into the same problem. This article seems to diminish the fact that, regardless of how he got there, Hamilton fought off his body's craving for drugs and that should be respected.

Greinke also deserves our respect for taking the steps to overcome things that could easily diminish his life.

Roy Tucker
05-06-2009, 03:25 PM
Here is the SI article... I thought it was well-done. But then, most everything by Posnanski is.

http://vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1155063/index.htm



May 04, 2009
Zack Greinke Is In Total Control

The rise of the young Royals ace has been as spectacular as his fall was chilling. His anxiety disorder now in check, he's unleashed the full range of his remarkable talent
JOE POSNANSKI

FIRST PITCH
Fastball up and away. Ball one

There's a riddle that has followed Zack Greinke ever since he made it to the big leagues five years ago. He was a 20-year-old Kansas City Royals pitcher who was being called, among other things, a genius, a prodigy, the future of pitching. The riddle was posed by Greinke himself: What do you follow, your mind or your arm?

"Sometimes my arm wants to throw a hard fastball," he says, "but my brain doesn't want to throw it that hard."

This was typical Zack Greinke. He was unlike any 20-year-old major leaguer anyone had ever seen. From the start he could do magical things with a baseball. He was the Royals' pitcher of the year as a rookie, the youngest in franchise history, and that's rare enough—a quick glance through history shows how few 20-year-olds there are who have been ready to retire big league hitters.

But it was the way that he got hitters out that distinguished Greinke: He worked out of his first big league jam by throwing a 58-mph curveball that Oakland's Eric Chavez dribbled to second base. That season he fooled Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams and home plate umpire Doug Eddings with a quick pitch that Eddings later allowed he might have missed. Most of all, he refused to throw hard.

"Let it go," everyone told him. Greinke readily admitted that at his unleashed best, he could throw his fastball 95 mph, maybe 96. But in games, facing the best hitters in the world, he would instead throw the ball 89 or 86 or 84, depending on his mood.

Let it go. That's what the coaches said, what his teammates thought, what they barked on talk radio and scribbled in the paper. But they didn't understand that Greinke had control at those lesser speeds. He could make the baseball do what he wanted at those speeds. If he really unleashed himself, well, there was no telling what would happen.

"Who wins the clash between your brain and the arm?" reporters once asked him.

"I dunno," he said.

Five years later, so much has changed. Zack Greinke has been a phenom, and he has been a bust. He has walked away from baseball, and he has come back. He has been a starter and a reliever, a genius and a flake, and even now he's still only 25 years old.

And, for the moment, Greinke is the best pitcher in baseball. On the last Friday in April, he stares down Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, who leads the league in hitting. Nobody is on base. Nobody has scored a run off Greinke all year. Nobody has scored off Greinke since Sept. 13 of last year, seven starts ago. Greinke begins his windup and turns his back to Cabrera, and then his right arm comes forward and fires his fastball, which pops the glove. It's all out, 94 mph, fully unleashed.

SECOND PITCH
80-mph slider, belt high, a called strike

Zack Greinke always had a talent for looking bored. Everyone noticed it. Scouts, in fact, wrote those words, "He looks bored," on their reports again and again. During interviews Greinke would stare at the ceiling, as if the answers could be divined from the tiles. Before games Greinke would sit in front of his locker and look off into the distance.

"Zack," a teammate once said to him, "I'm having this charity golf tournament. Was hoping you might play in it."

Greinke paused, as if considering the request. Then he said, "No. Why would I do that?"

The teammate shrugged, laughed, walked off. Just Zack being Zack.

Before he made his debut in Oakland in May 2004, Greinke put on his warmup jacket and walked out of the clubhouse. Where was he going? Nobody knew. "He's probably sleeping somewhere," his teammate Brian Anderson said.

"I don't mean this as a knock on the kid," says former Royals general manager Allard Baird, "but it truly is just a game to him. You talk about poise and those type of things, but with Zack from the very start, he was just going out there and playing the game. And whether he won the game or lost the game, he really wasn't any different."

Maybe it was because Greinke never wanted to pitch. He got a kick out of hitting home runs—one of his favorite stories involves a home run derby he won in high school. Greinke only became a fulltime pitcher during his senior year at Apopka (Fla.) High because he was too good not to become one. That season he had an 0.55 ERA, struck out 118 and walked eight, and he was named the Gatorade national high school player of the year.

"Yeah, I could dominate right away," he says, not to brag but to explain. His first full year in the minor leagues, he went 15--4 with a 1.93 ERA and a 112-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was the best pitching prospect in baseball. A year later he was the Royals' pitcher of the year.


It didn't mean all that much to him, though. Before he even made it to the big leagues, he had told reporters that his first win would be O.K., but that his first home run would be special. It would certainly prove to be memorable, occurring as it did on perhaps the worst pitching day of his life, in June 2005 against Arizona. He gave up 15 hits and 11 runs in just 4 1/3 innings. But on Greinke's first at bat he hit a long fly ball to the wall in right. In his next at bat Greinke crushed a long home run to left.

"I remember when he hit that home run, [manager] Buddy [Bell] walked to the top step and looked up at me in the press box with his hands out," Baird says. "And it was like, You have got to be kidding me."

THIRD PITCH
71-mph curveball, down and in, foul ball

Here's another Greinke story: During a dreadful 2005 season in which he would finish with a 5--17 record and a 5.80 ERA, Brian Anderson remembers Greinke once suddenly announcing in the dugout, "I'm going to throw a 50-mph curveball next inning." That was all he said.

Next inning, Greinke threw a preposterously slow curve to Detroit's Dmitri Young, the kind that made the whole crowd shout "Oooh." Anderson stuck his head out of the dugout to get the reading. It was precisely 50 mph.

The incident says something about Greinke's quirkiness and a virtuoso's feel for pitching, but it reveals more than that, too. It shows that Greinke was in trouble. He hated pitching so much that he had to invent little games to keep himself from crumbling. Everything was falling apart. He feuded with his pitching coach, Guy Hansen, who wanted him to move five inches to the left on the rubber. Never close to his teammates, he became even more distant, occasionally hostile.

Off the field it was worse. The simplest tasks overwhelmed him. He dreaded coming to the ballpark. Greinke talked with friends and family about becoming a full-time position player so that he could get to hit or, perhaps, taking up professional golf. He often talked with his family about it being another gray day.

The following spring training Greinke felt so distracted, he could not even concentrate on pitching. During one bullpen session his mind raced and he could not throw a strike. The next time out the results were no better. On a February morning in 2006 Greinke met with Bell and Baird and said that he needed to get away from baseball.

And here is where everything turned. Baseball is not a game known for understanding or compassion. The gentle relief pitcher for the Royals, Dan Quisenberry, wrote a poem about his manager Dick Howser, the refrain being Howser's quote for every occasion: "Piss on it." That was Howser's answer for losses, for slumps, for bad pitching performances, for anything gone wrong. Piss on it. Get 'em tomorrow.

And that's the image of the big league game: cold, hard, rub some dirt on it, walk it off, there's no crying in baseball, Texas manager Billy Martin once telling Mike Hargrove that Hargrove could not take off to attend his father-in-law's funeral because "that's not immediate family."

That's the game Bell and Baird grew up in. But on that February morning, they saw a young pitcher in pain, and they told him to go home and stop thinking about baseball. "There's business and there's personal," says Baird, now a special assistant with the Boston Red Sox. "And most times in the game, business comes ahead of personal. But I think in this situation, we were talking something bigger than business. There's right and wrong, and I don't think there was any gray area here."

Greinke took two months off, during which he was found to have social anxiety disorder, a condition marked by tension in social settings. He began taking medication, which made a big difference. He began to think more positively about baseball, too, which made a big difference. When he returned to pitch that June, at Double A Wichita, he found himself enjoying the experience. He started to throw as hard as he could.

"I had just taken the job in Kansas City," says current Royals G.M. Dayton Moore. "I didn't even have an office. And then I get a page on my cellphone that Zack Greinke is here to see me. We sit down, talk for 30 or 40 minutes, he told me he was doing fine, but all through the conversation he kept saying that he really enjoyed being in Wichita.

"Allard Baird is not only a great evaluator [of talent], but he's also a very caring person. Buddy too. Lots of people cared about Zack."

FOURTH PITCH
97-mph fastball, up and away. Ball two

Let it go. The first thing everyone noticed about the new Zack Greinke was how much harder he threw. The 89-mph fastball climbed to 98. His delivery had a couple of extra twists in it and a bit more violence. And right away, he was awfully good. He started seven games at the end of '07 and had a 1.85 ERA. In 2008 he was fifth in the league in strikeouts (183) and 10th in ERA (3.47).

Zack was still Zack, though. Another story: In 2007, when third baseman Alex Gordon was a rookie, he struggled terribly at the start. Before Gordon's seventh game, Greinke pulled his teammate into the video room and showed him a clip. It was of Greinke hitting his home run. "In case you forgot," Greinke said, "this is what a home run looks like." Gordon hit his first big league homer that night.

This year Greinke has been otherworldly. After his Friday start against Detroit, he led the league in victories (four), ERA (0.00), complete games (two), strikeouts (36) and shutouts (one), though he did give up one unearned run. "I know it's fashionable to say he learned how to pitch," Baird says, "but I don't buy it. The guy had a great feel for pitching from the start. I think he's just in a good place mentally. He wants to compete. People talk about 'Does he love to pitch?' I think he likes to pitch. But this guy loves to compete."

So what about the riddle—the mind or the arm? Well, there are no easy answers to a good riddle. Greinke stares at Miguel Cabrera, and his mind could be telling him anything. For his fifth pitch he could throw his slow curve again, or he could throw the hard slider that's his God-given gift. He could also throw his suddenly devastating changeup—that's the pitch he spent all of spring training throwing even though hitters battered it like crazy.

"He didn't care about the results," Moore says. "He just wanted to get a feel for the changeup. That's what's so amazing about Zack. He doesn't need the changeup to be good. He's already good. He worked on it because it can help make him great. And that's what the great ones do."

Greinke may have considered all those pitches or he may not have considered any of them. He begins his windup, turns his back to build the extra power, and he's let it go. The fastball is 96 mph. Miguel Cabrera may be the best fastball hitter in the American League, but he cannot catch up. Strikeout.

"I've come a long way," Greinke says into the camera after the game ends. That's the surprising answer to the riddle. Now Zack Greinke can let it go. He'll throw it as hard as he can, a young man in control. Sometimes the arm and mind both win.

TheNext44
05-06-2009, 04:10 PM
The Hamilton one was from a blog

TexasDave adds this to Joe's list

Sorry, my bad, didn't click on the link. Now that I have, that makes more sense, seeing the rest of the blog.