That's the game Bell and Baird grew up in. But on that February morning, they saw a young pitcher in pain, and they told him to go home and stop thinking about baseball. "There's business and there's personal," says Baird, now a special assistant with the Boston Red Sox. "And most times in the game, business comes ahead of personal. But I think in this situation, we were talking something bigger than business. There's right and wrong, and I don't think there was any gray area here."
Greinke took two months off, during which he was found to have social anxiety disorder, a condition marked by tension in social settings. He began taking medication, which made a big difference. He began to think more positively about baseball, too, which made a big difference. When he returned to pitch that June, at Double A Wichita, he found himself enjoying the experience. He started to throw as hard as he could.
"I had just taken the job in Kansas City," says current Royals G.M. Dayton Moore. "I didn't even have an office. And then I get a page on my cellphone that Zack Greinke is here to see me. We sit down, talk for 30 or 40 minutes, he told me he was doing fine, but all through the conversation he kept saying that he really enjoyed being in Wichita.
"Allard Baird is not only a great evaluator [of talent], but he's also a very caring person. Buddy too. Lots of people cared about Zack."
97-mph fastball, up and away. Ball two
Let it go. The first thing everyone noticed about the new Zack Greinke was how much harder he threw. The 89-mph fastball climbed to 98. His delivery had a couple of extra twists in it and a bit more violence. And right away, he was awfully good. He started seven games at the end of '07 and had a 1.85 ERA. In 2008 he was fifth in the league in strikeouts (183) and 10th in ERA (3.47).
Zack was still Zack, though. Another story: In 2007, when third baseman Alex Gordon was a rookie, he struggled terribly at the start. Before Gordon's seventh game, Greinke pulled his teammate into the video room and showed him a clip. It was of Greinke hitting his home run. "In case you forgot," Greinke said, "this is what a home run looks like." Gordon hit his first big league homer that night.
This year Greinke has been otherworldly. After his Friday start against Detroit, he led the league in victories (four), ERA (0.00), complete games (two), strikeouts (36) and shutouts (one), though he did give up one unearned run. "I know it's fashionable to say he learned how to pitch," Baird says, "but I don't buy it. The guy had a great feel for pitching from the start. I think he's just in a good place mentally. He wants to compete. People talk about 'Does he love to pitch?' I think he likes to pitch. But this guy loves to compete."
So what about the riddle—the mind or the arm? Well, there are no easy answers to a good riddle. Greinke stares at Miguel Cabrera, and his mind could be telling him anything. For his fifth pitch he could throw his slow curve again, or he could throw the hard slider that's his God-given gift. He could also throw his suddenly devastating changeup—that's the pitch he spent all of spring training throwing even though hitters battered it like crazy.
"He didn't care about the results," Moore says. "He just wanted to get a feel for the changeup. That's what's so amazing about Zack. He doesn't need the changeup to be good. He's already good. He worked on it because it can help make him great. And that's what the great ones do."