On a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon, Royals fans stood on their feet as the stadium rumbled with noise. An atmosphere normally reserved for teams in the playoffs was felt throughout beautiful Kauffman stadium. Every eye in the area was focused on the slender, young man standing on the pitchers mound, in the middle of it all. His demeanor as calm as ever.
But as strike three zips over the outside corner and the home team steps up to bat, the vibe of the stadium completely changes. The stadium remains full, but the familiar feeling of a Royals game in August settles over the fans. Nobody even seems to notice as the home team goes down in order. People stand in line for beer, use the restroom, or wander aimlessly around the stadium.
For an organization that has so very little to be proud of, Zack Greinke is all that matters. Though Billy Butler had a great year for such a young player, let's not kid ourselves. Zack Greinke is the face of the Royals. There is not a group of players, there are not two. Zack is the reason fans come to the game. Zack is the reason I am proud to be a Royals fan. Zack has finally brought some success to this organization.
At the All-Star game last summer in St. Louis I walked through the streets with my head held high. Not because of the name on the front of my powder blue shirt, but because there was a number 23 with "Greinke" written on the back. As the sea of Cardinals fans looked at me with pity or laughter, all I had to do was turn around. "He's a hell of a pitcher, isn't he?" is all they could say.
Greinke's abilities have now been acknowledged. But for those that watched him pitch all season long, it has been known since April who the best pitcher in the league was. We did not have to wait for the Cy Young to be announced. There was nobody with the skills Zack possessed.
Brett Saberhagen referred to Greinke's season by saying "It has to be (the best pitching performance in Royals history). If he had my offense from '89, he would've won at least 20 games if not more."
This means something, coming from a Royal who won the Cy Young twice.
Zack's skills seem to come so naturally. It all looks so easy for him. Sometimes it looks like he is just toying with the hitter. Despite his vast array of pitches, there are times when he will go right at the hitter with the same fastball, maybe 4 or 5 times in a row. Most of them in the same spot. As if to say "just go ahead and try to hit this pitch".
His fastball is unhittable when it's placed just right, and he doesn't miss often. At the knees on the outside corner. Strike one. It could be 98 mph or it could be 93 mph. Both with different but affective life on the ball. Add his changeup and hitters never know what speed the ball is coming at them. Strike two. His curveball is knee-buckling, it's slow and just drops with late break.Strike three.
The hitter can do nothing but prepare for his next at bat. But with Zack Greinke it's not exactly that easy. The next at bat may bring completely new pitches, or the hitter may know exactly what is coming, but that doesn't always help.
By now you have most likely heard his inspirational story. After fighting off social anxiety disorder, which caused him to quit baseball, he got his life together and is now on track for an amazing career.
There are still moments where the anxiety is visible. He's still not comfortable with all the attention and admiration. But, he seems better. He is a different person than the Zack from '03. He is actually very funny, as most Royals fans have come to notice.
With mental stability Zack has been able to focus on baseball. That focus has led to domination. The talent has always been visible but the success was harder to find. Now his own personal success is no longer an issue. He has proved all that he can.
Players say that they don't care about personal accolades, most of it is PR. But when Zack Greinke disscusses this issue, I sense genuine sincerity in him. When asked of the CY Young chants by the fans Grinke said it was "annoying." Club officials stated that he meant "distracting". "No, I meant annoying" Zack clarified.
When I read through a Bob Dutton column that printed this, as a fan I was upset. But that's just who Zack is. He's brutally honest. Later in the column, however there was another quote, this one raising my spirits. At Yankee Stadium just before the end of the season he was asked if he ever thought about pitching in the playoffs.
"Yeah definitely. But I don't want to pitch for New York in the playoffs. I want to pitch for Kansas City in the playoffs."
The voters certainly got this one right. His statistics were outstanding, but if you watched him pitch this season then you know that he may have actually been better than the numbers say. For stretches he was so dominant that he could have shut out an all-star team of sluggers playing at the launching pad that is Yankee Stadium.
The time for arguments and stats has passed. Zack Greinke has brought rare joy to Kansas City Royals fans by winning the Cy Young award as the best pitcher in the AL. Don't forget he is still 26 years old, there is still plenty of time for him to achieve his goal. That is pitching for Kansas City in the playoffs (call me crazy).
It may not be a big deal to Zack, but for this organization and the city it represents his achievement brings the possibility of a bright tomorrow. So as Zack Greinke walked to the pitching mound on his last home appearance of the season, the Kansas City sun shined with pride and the fans stood and cheered their thanks. Happy Greinke Day!