The Book of Zack

“Not really. I’ve been playing this World of Warcraft game. I haven’t been thinking about baseball that much.”  — Zack Greinke, on whether he’d thought about the Cy Young since the end of the regular season.

These words are all you need to know about Zack Greinke. See these words above? Read them. Let them soak in.

 …And then think about this.

 Zack Greinke was completely serious. If you know Zack Greinke, if you’ve listened to Zack Greinke, if you’ve talked to Zack Greinke… You know this to be true.

 You see, Zack Greinke said these words with no trace of clever humor or irony or wit.

 Zack Greinke said these words in the same deliberate speech pattern with which he delivers all his words.

 It was around 2:45 on Tuesday afternoon. Hours earlier, Zack Greinke had just learned he’d won American League Cy Young Award. He’d just become the third Royals pitcher in history to win the award. And now he was on a conference call with reporters. He was only months away from completing the greatest professional season of his life. He was only months away from finishing what was – and is — arguably one of the Top 15 pitching seasons of all-time. And Zack Greinke will get married this Saturday.

 So Zack, have you though much about the Cy Young award since the end of the season?

 And here they come; those words are coming…

 “Not really. I’ve been playing this World of Warcraft game. I haven’t been thinking about baseball that much.”

*****

There is an image of David Ortiz. It’s burned somewhere deep in the brain.

It won’t go away. And hopefully, it never will.

There is David Ortiz. He is sitting at his locker in the visitors clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium. It’s September and the Red Sox are in a Pennant Race, a desperate attempt to catch the Yankees.

And on this night, the Red Sox have fallen to the lowly Kansas City Royals — a team that will lose 97 games.

Except on this night, the Royals weren’t  lowly or depressing miserable.

You see, on this night, the Royals were pitching the best pitcher in baseball.

There is David Ortiz. His facial hair is perfectly groomed. His hair is almost shining. And he’s wearing a gray undershirt — you know, the kind with the offensive name.

Reporters start to crowd around. And they all have questions.

How good was Greinke?

Is he the best pitcher you’ve seen this year?

What was he throwing tonight?

But really, there is only one question that matters.

And there is David Ortiz, leaning back in his chair and giving his typical round smile.

The question is a simple one, and Ortiz has a simple answer.

Should Zack Greinke be the American League Cy Young Award winner?

“Why not?” Ortiz said.

Greinke had just allowed two hits over his six innings of work. He had lowered his Major League-leading ERA to 2.08. He had struck out five more batters, giving him 229 for the season. 

“Why not?” Ortiz said, repeating himself. “He got good numbers for it. If I could vote for the Cy Young Award winner, [I] might give one vote to him.”

*****
There doesn’t seem to be much else to say about Zack Greinke these days.

 His story has been told.

 He was once the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. He would make his major league debut and be named Royals pitcher of the year in 2004. In 2006, He would battle social anxiety issues and depression and walk away from the game.

And you know the ending — or at least, the ending of that part of the Greinke story.

 So if you’d like a true Greinke education, this may not be the place.

 There are far better places.

 If you’re looking for a Ph.D in all things Zack, go here.

Professor Posnanski is one of the foremost Greinke scholars in the country.

Short on time? Well, The KC Star’s Sam Mellinger is offering a Masters’ degree here.

So, consider this more of a Greinke undergraduate degree.

You may learn something. But you may not. And it could potentially end up being a huge  waste of time. And at the end, you may end up feeling hungover and confused.

*****

There are so many stories about  Greinke.

We’ll start with this:

You see, my image of Greinke might be slightly different than yours. 

And when I say image, I don’t mean what I think of him or you think of him, or his reputation, or how he acts.

I mean my literal image — the image I see in my head when I think of Zack Greinke.

 Thing is, I spent the 2009 baseball season covering the Royals for MLB.com. I saw Greinke pitch at least 15 times. I saw him throw shutouts and I saw him strikc out 15 hitters and I saw him get thrown out of a game for protecting a rookie teammate.

But this image is different.

My image is of Greinke walking into the Royals clubhouse on Sunday mornings.

 He was always wearing the same pair of worn, grey New Balance shoes. He was always wearing long white socks, pushed down by his ankles. He was always wearing khaki shorts and a wrinkled polo. And he was always carrying a cup of Starbucks coffee.

He looked so unassuming — exactly like a laid-back college kid on a Sunday morning.

 And then, if it was his day to pitch, he’d go out and dominate. Throw 96 miles per hour with a buckling slider and an above-average curveball. And he’d walk off the mound, and you never forget his walk. His strut. Zack Greinke – the most laid-back, quiet, unassuming star in baseball – always seems to strut when he walks off the field.

*****

Here’s another story.

Greinke once received a blue and yellow Ron Jon surfboard in the mail from a fan. At least, I think it came through the mail*. The surfboard sat up against the wall by Greinke’s locker for the next two or three weeks.

 *Is is possible to send a surfboard through the mail?

 “So, Zack,” a reporter asked. “You surf?”

Zack: No.

Reporter: So, what’s with the board.

Zack: (Paraphrasing) Somebody sent it to me. And we started winning, so I thought I’d keep it.

Reporter: Really, cool.

Zack:  …

*****

You probably know that Zack Greinke doesn’t really like to talk to reporters.

This is not unusual. Most Major-League players aren’t wild about talking to the media.

And I’m sure there are various reasons for this.

 But Greinke is different. You see, it’s not that Greinke is worried about negative stories, or being misquoted or misunderstood.

 Greinke just doesn’t really like talking to anybody.

 And so, I often found myself in the visitors clubhouse after Greinke pitched. Sometimes, I would be covering the opposing team, and I would need to go to the visitors’ side.

And other times, I would go there to find out what the Angels or Red Sox or Twins or Tigers thought about Greinke.

 You know what? There seemed to running theme.

 “Flat-out nasty,”  — Minnesotat’s Joe Mauer.

 “He invents stuff. I’ve never seen a 95-mph cutter before.” — Detroit’s Brandon Inge.

 “It really was a clinic today. He was almost unhittable to me.” — Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu

 “He has everything,” — Boston manager Terry Francona

 “That’s about as good as I’ve seen any pitcher in my time here at this level.” — Cleveland manager Eric Wedge

“Kid’s got a lot of equipment,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland.

 “…the best pitcher in baseball.” — Texas manager Ron Washington

 “He’s the best in the league right now,” — White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen

 *****

Reporter: (interviewing Zack after he won the Cy Young) Hey, I know you’re not big into all this media stuff. You dealing with it OK?

Zack: Yea… Lotta stuff going on. I usually like doing nothing.

Reporter: So you excited for your wedding this weekend?

Zack: (Explains that his fiancé has been doing most of the wedding preparations) I just got to show up I guess. Hopefully it’ll be fun.

*****

You see, I guess all this isn’t really about Zack Greinke. It’s really more about what he represents. This is about what he represents to Kansas City. And this is about what he represents to a certain generation of Kansas City’s sports fans.

Zack Greinke is 26-years-old. And this is fitting.

The last 24 years have been tough on sports fans in Kansas City.

If you are under the age of 26, you never saw Len Dawson lead last-minute drives. You never saw George Brett in his prime, raking doubles into the gaps of then-Royals Stadium.

You never Frank White or Willy Wilson or Amos Otis. You never saw Bobby Bell or Buck Buchanan or Willie Lanier. You never even saw Bo Jackson with a real hip.

You have no memory of the last time the Royals won the World Series. And if you are exactly 25, you were nine the last time Chiefs won a playoff game.

 There is a generation which knows nothing about winning.

But we do know what its like to watch the Chiefs go 13-3 and then lose a playoff game at home.

 They’ve done that three times.

 We know what its like to watch the Royals develop young stars — and then watch as those stars bolt town.

 *It’s especially infuriating when one of those stars (Jermaine Dye – a future World Series MVP) gets traded for Neifi Perez – straight up. Seriously. It happened.

 We know what its like to watch the greatest pass catching tight end ever.

 But we also know what its like to watch the Chiefs lose 26 out of 28.

 But really, the real pain has come from baseball. The 100-loss seasons, first basemen getting hit with relay throws, outfielders scaling up the wall when the ball hits the warning track, first basemen getting swallowed by the tarp, Tony Pena Jr. playing shortstop. The list goes on and on and on.

 And this is where Zack Greinke comes in.

 He may not help the Royals back to the playoffs. He may never even play on a .500 team.

 But Greinke is arguably the greatest pitcher on the planet.

 …And he’s ours.

 And when you have the greatest pitcher on the planet, you also have hope.

 And as a wise man once said, hope… is a good thing.

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