The winter of 2010 was probably one of the warmest in Milwaukee Brewers history. The memory of 2008 was still there – acquiring Sabbathia in a mid-season trade and enjoying a run to the wild card followed by two consecutive sub .500 seasons. We felt teased by the rise and fall.
Then Christmas came early. On December 19, 2010, the Royals did what Zack Greinke asked them to do. They traded him….to Milwaukee!!! And we nearly jumped out of our skin, too excited to care about the fine print details. The Royals were heading into the 2011 season with Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Odirizzi, and Jeremy Jeffress. And these were more than names to us. We had watched Cain roam Miller Park’s center field the previous September. We knew about Escobar’s range and the 100 mph plus fastball of Jeffress and Odorizzi was the Brewers first round pick in the 2006 draft, but we didn’t care because we had Zack Greinke.
And even when former Brewers catcher and manager Ned Yost took over the Royals and predicted he would one day win the World Series with them, we still didn’t care because we had Zack Greinke.
We said the name a few times….. Zack Greinke – Milwaukee Brewers and it felt really good, so we said it again. It was like singing a song’s chorus over and over and over, Zack Greinke – Milwaukee Brewers. As the initial gush wore off and the front office began to focus on more ways to bolster the staff, it made sense, this Greinke acquisition, with Milwaukee being such a small market team, free from the spotlight, less likely to irritate Greinke’s struggle with social anxiety disorder and depression, no big city lights and constant questioning from reporters.
Greinke was well liked in Milwaukee and garnered a sort of cult-like following. Fans praised his standoffish-ness and sarcastic, cold responses to the media. They liked his unpredictability, how he never said the same thing twice, never used worn-out clichés. But Brewers fans didn’t seem to grasp the difference between Greinke’s social phobia and what they maybe considered to be a fashionable insouciance. The new Brewer was still struggling with a very real and dangerous illness that made quitting baseball a distinct possibility for him, back in 2006.
Fans glorified what they referred to as brutal honesty, and related a little to what they perceived to be a misanthropic edge. But Greinke was not enjoying some juvenile rebel, hateful stance toward 99% of the world. This was about Greinke’s survival and was the furthest thing from glamorous or cool. And when the phobias became too much, Greinke became quiet. He ran for cover.
The fact that Greinke requested the Milwaukee media to leave him alone except on specific days reflected his incredible intelligence and will to survive. He had paid his dues, learned his limitations and designed a strategy to combat what previously sent him spiraling downward.
Milwaukee was not the peak of Greinke’s pitching career, but we sure enjoyed his contributions, especially at home – Miller Park where he was 11-0 during 2011, the year we won the NL Central, but lost to those damn Cardinals in the NL Championship.
We didn’t expect Greinke to stay in Milwaukee and we were right. He didn’t. Anaheim was next on his free agent tour and that also made sense. He was born in warm climate Florida and the Angels were certainly the smaller of the Los Angeles teams in terms of media attention.
But when Greinke signed with the other Los Angeles, I was pleasantly shocked. What a triumph for a fellow human saddled with such obstacles to now be pitching on one of baseball’s biggest stages, Chavez Ravine, home of Kershaw and Koufax, Valenzuela and Drysdale, Vin Scully. The Dodgers! I had to say it again. It sounded so great. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers. How did he do it!
“It wasn’t that hard after I got the medicine,” Greinke said. “The medicine was the greatest thing ever. I may have gotten lucky and found the right one. The only problem I have with it is that it makes me a little tired, but not real tired. That’s the only complaint I have. I know it’s not always that easy, but for me it was. I was lucky with that.” (from this ESPN article)
And now Greinke stands on the brink of becoming baseball’s highest paid pitcher, ever, and I know school teachers should make more money and life’s not fair, but I’m happy for you Greinke.