|05-07-2009, 04:02 AM|
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Another good story about Greinke
2 father figures play big role in Greinke's success
by Ken Rosenthal
Ken Rosenthal has been the senior baseball writer for FOXSports.com since Aug. 2005. He appears weekly on the FSN Baseball Report and MLB on FOX.
His résumé all but screams "old-school baseball lifer." Buddy Bell played 18 years in the majors, fought through injuries, adopted the standard grin-and-bear-it mind-set.
Yet when Royals pitcher Zack Greinke was in need of help in February 2006, the young pitcher saw an entirely different side of Bell, who was then the team's manager.
Bell, 57, is a father of five, including three sons who played professional baseball. He has been a coach, manager and farm director, often working with young players.
Looking at Greinke, listening to Greinke, Bell saw a 22-year-old kid in need not of tough love, but genuine compassion.
Allard Baird, then the Royals general manager, was the baseball man credited as perhaps being most instrumental in Greinke's turnaround, putting the pitcher's welfare first at a time when his own job was in jeopardy.
But when I asked Baird recently to name someone else who played a pivotal role in Greinke's story, he answered immediately, "Buddy Bell."
"Baseball was not important at that particular time for any of us," Bell recalls. "It was serious, there was no question about that. There wasn't any choice really. This is truly what needed to happen. He needed to get away from the game for a while."
Baird, now a special assistant with the Red Sox, echoes Bell's sentiments.
"There was no gray area. Buddy felt that way. I felt that way," Baird says. "This was a human being's life, a young man we were talking about. It was the person above the player. That's what it really came down to."
Greinke, now 25, was suffering from depression and social anxiety disorder. He started pitching again in June '06, beginning his comeback at Double-A Wichita.
Three years later, he is the hottest pitcher in the majors, the subject of a Sports Illustrated cover story, baseball's latest source of inspiration.
His latest masterpiece a six-hit complete-game shutout featuring 10 strikeouts and no walks came against Bell's latest team, the White Sox.
Bell, who left the Royals after the 2007 season, is now the White Sox's farm director.
"Makes you laugh, makes you cry," he says, chuckling.
Actually, when it comes to Greinke, Bell mostly just smiles.
Mental health issues are not easily understood by the general public, much less in the all-men's club of baseball. Those who thought the Royals were babying Greinke did not understand the depth of his problems.
"A lot of kids don't go through adversity and never had to deal with it. A lot of 'em don't know if they're tough enough to get through it," Bell says. "He's got to be so proud of himself to realize how tough he is, just to get where he is today. That's the best part."
Bell will not talk about what was said when he and Baird met with Greinke in February 2006, saying, "It was a very, very personal thing for Zack. He had a lot of friends, a lot of family. We just basically directed him toward that part of his life."
Yet Greinke's comeback did not progress smoothly. His talent was never in question: He was the sixth overall pick in the 2002 draft and reached the majors at age 20. But while at Wichita, he was still trying to determine what he wanted from baseball, from life.
A scout I know recalls dining with another scout at a P.F. Chang's in Wichita in 2006. Greinke approached their table he knew the second scout and began peppering the two with questions about how to enter their profession.
The next night, Greinke blew an 8-0 lead, allowing nine runs (eight earned) in 4 2/3 innings. It proved a turning point. Greinke began pitching much better after that, and rejoined the Royals on Sept. 19.
"He had a lot of support, a good family, good friends," Bell recalls. "But this kid did 99.9 percent of it on his own. He's a very private kid. He had to figure it out on his own. The only thing we did was give him time to figure it out.
"I always thought he realized how much he really loved playing. If that ever mixed with the talent he had, yeah, he could be that kind of pitcher. He has that kind of stuff, that kind of mind. He has a terrific mind."
An artist's mind.
A mind that confounds hitters.
The type of mind that made Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez so great.
"I don't even think Zack likes those comparisons. As a matter of fact, I know he doesn't," Bell says. "He just wants to be Zack. That's the best part about him.
"For me right now, today there are are a lot of similarities. If he continues like this, there's no question. He's so bright. He's way ahead. It's almost like he's bored if he doesn't try doing stuff.
"You know who he reminds me a lot of? Larry Walker, the best player I've ever been around. He'd get bored. Everything came so easy for him. He needed a challenge. Walker would try different things in the batter's box. It's kind of the same thing with Zack."
The best part of it is, there's a story to tell. A story of a kid who endured. A kid who still has much to overcome. A kid who had help and will get more help along the way.
Buddy Bell says it again.
"I get chills just thinking about it," he says. "I'm just so happy that he did this, that he found out how tough he really is."