Friday, May 8, 2009

There's A lot More to Zack Greinke Than A Great Arm

During my fantasy draft, Zack Greinke's name kept standing out to me. I didn't know a lot about him, but I felt like I remembered him having pretty good stats. I ended up drafting him, and to date he's been the best pitcher on my staff as well as the best pitcher in baseball.

A few years ago, when Greinke was drafted by the Royals he was considered to be a pitching prodigy. Early on he showed that he had the make up to be a No. 1 type pitcher.

However, he struggled with something that not only effected his game, but his life as well.

The thing about Zack Greinke is that he isn't the type of guy that dreamed of being a major league pitcher. He never wanted to pitch. He was more fascinated with hitting home runs than he ever was with trying to strike hitters out.

In high school, he took part in a home run derby, and pitched occasionally when his coach needed him to. His coaches pushed him into pitching because he was far too good not to pitch.

Most people who know Greinke will tell you that he is a little on the strange side. He's not the type of guy you will find sitting in the clubhouse talking with his teammates or talking to the media.

He's the one staring into his locker or looking bored when he's getting asked questions. He's likely to wander off on the days that he's pitching and fall asleep somewhere around the stadium.

In 2005, Greinke was having an awful season. Nothing was working for him the way it normally did. During one game, he told his manager that he planned on throwing a 50 mph curveball, and when he went out there, the radar guns confirmed the proclamation Greinke had made earlier.

Now, why would a guy with the capability of throwing in the mid-90s feel like all he could throw was a 50 mph curveball to get hitters out?

The truth was Greinke wasn't happy pitching. As a result, he was getting into arguments with his pitching coach and growing even more distant from his teammates. He didn't like having five days between his starts because he was unoccupied, and talked to his family about wanting to become a position player so he'd have more playing time.

Things got worse for Greinke the following spring. He was so unfocused he couldn't pitch. He couldn't throw strikes during his bullpen sessions let alone at any other time. He informed his pitching coach and his manager that he needed to take some time off from baseball.

The Royals allowed Greinke to take the time off, and it was then that he was diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder, a condition that occurs in high tension social situations.

Luckily with the help of everyone around him and medication, Greinke was able to get himself back in a good frame of mind. He pitched his way back into the Royals' starting rotation, and has been lights out so far in 2009.

Many people think that a social anxiety disorder is one of those made up diseases that people say that they have to mask whatever their problem is. However, as someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, I can vouch that it is in no way made up.

Anxiety can be debilitating. It can make you feel like someone is standing on your chest and you can't breathe. You feel trapped, you can't focus, and that only gets worse when you feel like everyone is zeroing in on you.

Thankfully, it can be dealt with in a variety of ways. Sometimes all a person needs is a little bit of time on medication to feel like they are in control of their lives again, and then they are able to function without it. There are lots of ways to try and eliminate stress or at least keep it at a lower rate and focus on one thing at a time.

I had difficulty feeling calm around small groups of people; Greinke had to pitch in front of thousands of people a night, and that alone can cause anxiety never mind if you already suffer from it.

Zack Greinke will never be the guy that is chatting it up in the clubhouse or laughing with his teammates in the dugout, but he will be able to help his team. He is fortunate that he was able to recognize his problem, and get help.

It is because of that that Greinke has been able to emerge as the dominating pitcher everyone always thought he would be. He still may not love to pitch, but he loves to compete, and that is what fuels his ability.

The Royals love what he's doing as does every fantasy owner who pencils him in every fifth day. It's always good to see someone overcome an obstacle and come out on top.

Keep up the good work, Zack!

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