Greinke begins his return to baseball
Right-hander working out at Surprise, Ariz., complex
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Zack Greinke had thrown a bad bullpen session at Spring Training and he went for a talk with Royals manager Buddy Bell in his office.
"People assumed that he was going to yell at me," Greinke said.
"But that wasn't the case. Buddy was watching my bullpen and saw that I was doing some crazy stuff and he wanted to know what was wrong with me. He wasn't yelling at me. He saw that there was something really wrong with me -- not just pitching."
Greinke told Bell about the demons that were pursuing him. Bell responded by telling the kid pitcher about some of his own problems. The next day the Royals announced that Greinke had left camp because of "personal matters."
Greinke was back in Surprise on Wednesday, starting to work toward rejoining the Royals. He looked happy and fit with the old, sly grin playing across his face.
"I just wanted to make this clear: I can't live without baseball. Up till this last offseason, I couldn't go a day without playing it," he said.
"It's to the point where it caused problems with my girlfriend because she knows baseball is more important than her. I say, 'Hey, I'm sorry. I love the game that much. You're not even close to being No. 1 -- that's how much I love baseball. I couldn't live without it.' "
A cloak of silence had dropped over Greinke after he left camp nearly two months ago.
On Wednesday, he said he's been dealing with a sports psychologist and a psychiatrist to cope with his anxieties. He admitted he has not conquered the problem.
"No," he said, "but I feel better. ... I feel like I'm not going through the worst time in my life all day long. I feel like I'm really ready to start dealing with stuff."
Greinke avoided putting a medical label on his problems, nor would he be specific about the treatment.
"The main thing is, I just have a tough time around people for the most part," he said. "I've always had a problem with people but, lately, it just got worse and worse to the point where I'm out in the field and around a bunch of people, I can't really leave. I'm stuck in the situation and I get a lot of anxiety doing it. And then I get uncomfortable with what I'm doing because it was messing with my pitching. Because I was constantly worried about other stuff than pitching and I couldn't do anything. It just would control my life."
Royals general manager Allard Baird sat with Greinke, 22, during Wednesday's interview but kept quiet unless asked a question. He let Greinke tell his story.
Greinke was only in camp about 10 days before his locker became vacant on Feb. 25. He recalled a bullpen session with new catcher Paul Bako.
"After five minutes I grabbed the ball real hard and I was about to chuck it as far as I could," Greinke said. "But there's about 100 people watching this stupid bullpen and I have to throw the next five minutes still. Even though it's not going to help me at all. ... I was like, 'I've got to get out of this place, I can't even think about pitching right now.'"
In another session, he remembered throwing every pitch about 100 mph, hitting the backstop about 15 times and nearly tearing off catcher John Buck's arm.
"I was just losing it," he said.
So he went home.
There he hung out with his parents, Don and Marsha; his brother Luke, a pitcher at Auburn University, and girlfriend Emily. He lifted weights, worked out hard, and relaxed by fishing.
"My relationship with my family, my girlfriend and brother has all gotten better through this," he said.
Baird called frequently. So did Bell.
"It's just unbelievable the support they have given me," Greinke said.
When he expected Bell simply to run him out of camp, instead the manager became very understanding and talked to him like a father.
Occasionally, teammates checked in. He's not concerned about how they'll receive him if he goes into the clubhouse with a positive outlook.
"I'm not ashamed of what I did. When I talk to people I tell them I'm crazy, I tell them, hey, I'm nuts," Greinke said with a half-smile.
"I don't even know what it is exactly. I wish I could say it was depression or whatever it was, but I don't really know. I know I was feeling depressed."
Greinke was a joy to behold as a precocious rookie in 2004 when he had an 8-11 record and a tight 3.97 ERA in 24 starts. He changed speeds and game plans on the fly, he threw trick pitches including a floating eephus, he snapped off a quick pitch that caught batters napping.
"The quick pitch is my favorite," Baird confessed. "I try not to laugh in case I'm on camera."
Last year, though, he had a 5-17 record and a 5.80 ERA and the joy seemed sucked away.
Greinke dismisses the pressure of being a Major Leaguer as contributing to his problem.
"I really don't think it had anything to do with it. I think losing might have something to do with it because losing all the time can wear on you and it wore on me a lot," he said.
|"I clearly realize that baseball is not any of the problem. It's just the other stuff that really gives me a lot of problems."|
|-- Zack Greinke|
Even so, Greinke has dealt with his demons before in his life and doesn't think the game is a contributing factor. In fact, he seems happiest when he's on the field.
"I clearly realize that baseball is not any of the problem. It's just the other stuff that really gives me a lot of problems," he said.
Obviously, the Royals could use an effective Greinke. On the day he discussed his return, the team was in Chicago and lost its 10th straight game.
"I think he would have been a really good pitcher for us this year and I think he will be whatever he decides to do," catcher Buck said.
"He has an ability to change speeds that a lot of older pitchers are still trying to grasp and he does it effectively. He's not afraid to take miles an hour off his fastball. It's hard to get a young pitcher to do that sometimes, but he likes to."
Greinke will be working out at Surprise until he's ready to take on Minor League competition. It'll probably be a long process, Baird said.
Just as conquering his psychological concerns will take a while. Greinke says he's not completely over that hurdle yet.
"I'm just hoping it gets better," he said. "It's still going to be some time. It might be a month, it might be three months. It might be never. But everybody who's dealt with it said it gets better."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.