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Quiet Greinke warming to new surroundings

Quiet Greinke warming to new surroundings

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Quiet Greinke warming to new surroundings
PHOENIX -- The popular perception is that Zack Greinke waived his no-trade rights for a December deal to Milwaukee because he could pitch for a contender in the same kind of small-market atmosphere he was leaving behind in Kansas City.

But that's not entirely correct. Greinke thought about it a lot over the winter, and he said the size of the city didn't figure into his decision.

"There's more people to ignore in New York or Boston than there are in Milwaukee," he said, "but I would still ignore them, probably."

That was only one moment of refreshing honesty from one of the most fascinating players ever to wear a Brewers uniform. Greinke met Tuesday with a small group of reporters huddled into an even smaller room at Maryvale Baseball Park for his first interview since reporting to camp more than a week ago.

He talked candidly about the challenges facing a Major Leaguer with social anxiety disorder, a condition diagnosed five years ago this spring that almost permanently pulled Greinke away from baseball. He said he's surprised he came back at all, and explained the "stupid" way he was pushed into pitching in the first place, back in high school when he preferred to hit and play the field. He explained why he mostly keeps to himself in the clubhouse, why he avoids media interviews and why he'd forfeit the $27 million he's owed over the next two seasons if he could get rid of the cameras and the fame and just play baseball.

And then he offered a glimpse of his fiery competitiveness, which is why he puts up with all of it.

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"Baseball, in my opinion, would be a lot better if you could just make the same salary as everybody else in the world and you don't deal with any of the other stuff," Greinke said. "But that's not how it is. The main thing is I want to pitch against the best players in the world, and you can't do that playing in a pickup baseball league in your town."

He used to be just as competitive at other sports. Greinke was once one of the nation's best 8-year-old tennis players, but was so nervous before matches that he had to quit. He's also a gifted golfer, and briefly considered pursuing a pro career after stepping away from baseball in 2006 to receive treatment for anxiety.

"I don't play anymore, because I know I'm not going to be a pro golfer," Greinke said. "So there's no reason to golf."

This is not a man who enjoys wasting time.

Singularly focused

That's why he's mostly kept to himself in the Brewers' clubhouse instead of joining chit-chatting teammates over breakfast, and why he goes into a "daze thing" during the daily morning meetings to conserve energy for the workout that follows. It's also why, other than Tuesday's small gathering, he'll only do media after he pitches.

"I come to the park and want to get focused on my next start, and random people come and waste my time talking," Greinke said. By picking and choosing his interviews, "it gets rid of all the 'eyewash' comments from reporters and lets you focus on what needs to be focused on."

To some extent, the same goes for teammates. It's not that he's unfriendly to his fellow Brewers but says he does not intend to chat with them for an hour every day and that he is not interested in group dinners.

"To talk to people, I have to spend energy," he said. "If I spend my energy focused on talking to people and making friends, then that takes away from the energy I could be focused on getting ready to pitch. So I just try to avoid nonsense talk.

"It wears me out to do stuff like our meetings every day. If I actually listen to them, like in class, if you actually listen to the person talking, it will wear me out. So I kind of go into a daze thing and I'm kind of refreshed from it."

Greinke said he understands some of these feelings are related to his anxiety disorder. He was diagnosed after leaving the Royals' Spring Training camp in 2006 and was "90 percent sure" he was finished with baseball.

He returned only after beginning a course of medication, worked back to the Kansas City bullpen, then the rotation and then to stardom. In 2009, Greinke went 16-8 for a 97-loss team, with a Major League-best 2.16 ERA and 242 strikeouts on the way to the American League Cy Young Award.

In a down year in 2010, when his ERA jumped to 4.17, Greinke still would have led the Brewers in innings and complete games and ranked second to All-Star Yovani Gallardo in strikeouts.

"He's in another level," said shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who was part of the trade that brought Greinke to Milwaukee.

That does not mean it's always easy. Greinke has twice altered his medication, including last year after he felt his focus slip between starts for the Royals. It's been a challenge.

"It's all kind of crazy, because it makes me tired to take it, but if I don't take it, I get really worked up," Greinke said. "The higher the dosage, the more tired I get, so I sort of get used to it. Nothing's perfect."

So far, Greinke is happy in Brewers camp. He said he particularly likes the coaching staff and the "relaxed" atmosphere that comes with a more veteran team. His teammates have been kind.

"I like a lot of the guys," he said. "I haven't seen one who's annoying yet to me. They've all been good. The [pitching] staff seems to have a lot of talent on it. It's pretty cool."

Restocking arms

The Brewers acquired Greinke for his right arm and not his public-relations practices. General manager Doug Melvin watched his starting staff finish with the National League's worst ERA in 2009 and next-to-last in 2010, so he went to work.

In early December, Melvin sent top prospect Brett Lawrie to the Blue Jays for right-hander Shaun Marcum. Two weeks later, he landed Greinke in a blockbuster. After Greinke invoked his no-trade rights to block a trade to the Nationals, Melvin saw his opening and offered his starting shortstop (Alcides Escobar, 24), his potential starting center fielder (Lorenzo Cain, 25 in April) and two of his top pitching prospects (20-year-old Jake Odorizzi and 23-year-old Jeremy Jeffress). In return he would get Greinke, Betancourt and $2 million to cover the 2012 buyout of Betancourt's contract.

The Royals accepted and Greinke approved, partly because he sees the Brewers as viable playoff contenders in 2011.

Greinke and Marcum joined a staff that already included Gallardo and veteran left-hander Randy Wolf, who was the clear No. 2 starter last season. The fifth spot will go to lefty Chris Narveson, who is less proven than the rest of the rotation but did win 12 games last year with a 4.99 ERA.

"It's kind of what's happened to Texas," Greinke said. "Forever, the offense was amazing in Texas, but you can't really do much without pitching. That's kind of what it's like in Milwaukee. They brought over two really good pitchers, and there's already two really good pitchers over here. So you have four legit starting-rotation guys and a good offense. That should be pretty special."

Breaking the ice

Greinke is slowly attaching names to his new teammates' faces. The Brewers' spring clubhouse is ordered by uniform number, so No. 14 Casey McGehee, Milwaukee's starting third baseman, has a spot next to Greinke and his No. 13.

"From what I can tell, he's somebody who is very serious about what he is doing," McGehee said. "He gets focused on whatever he's doing, and that's a good quality as a pitcher. I don't think he's going to let outside distractions affect what he's doing on the mound. I think he's able to truly block it out."

McGehee has seen glimpses of Greinke's dry sense of humor. He figures he'll see more as the weeks of Spring Training go on.

"Do I joke around with him like I do with Prince? No," McGehee said. "But I don't know [Greinke] that well, either. That will come. He has an under-the-radar sense of humor."

Gallardo's time with Greinke has come during the Brewers' pitchers and catchers workouts. Brewers pitchers have been divided into four groups, and both Gallardo, Greinke and Marcum are all in Group 1.

Yes, Gallardo said, Greinke is reserved.

"You can ask anyone in here and they might say same thing about me, that I'm quiet," Gallardo said. "We've had some great conversations, joking around or talking about pitching. When we have conversations about pitching he might be the first one to make a comment about it or recommend something. He's obviously had great success, so he's one of the guys to go to."

Has Greinke gotten to know Gallardo?

"Not really," he said, cracking a smile. "He's even quieter than I am."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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