If you were to run into Zack Greinke on the street, you may assume he’s
just some carefree college sophomore headed to a keg party. But, while his attitude and demeanor may scream "Dude, Where’s
my Car," when the 20-year-old takes the mound, it’s no joke.
"It seems like it’s been like 10 years since I’ve been in high
school," said Greinke who graduated in 2001. "I didn’t expect to be (in the big leagues) this fast, but honestly (high
school) seems like forever ago."
During a season that virtually nothing went right in Kansas City, the baby-faced
rookie gave diehard Royals fans reason for optimism. In 145 innings, Greinke gave up just 143 hits and struck out 100 batters
while walking a mere 26. His 3.97 ERA was nearly a half run better than the league average.
What makes his inaugural season even more impressive, is that he was immediately
anointed the staff ace, "At first I (put too much pressure on myself) because we still had a chance to come back and make
a push for the playoffs, and I was like "Maybe I could be a sparkplug and help my team out a lot." When I didn’t that
made it tough on me, but now I don’t feel any added pressure."
Greinke’s rookie season was not without its trials and tribulations,
however. Pitching for a team that lost 105 games, his record was a less-than-impressive 8-11, "The hitters are so much better
here," he explained. "It seems that they are so much stronger that when they hit a ball and get jammed and a ball that would
be caught by my infielders (in the minors) is falling in (for a hit). A deep pop up that would be caught sometimes goes over
the fence. They put good wood on the ball a lot more often."
While he’s not known as a power pitcher, Greinke’s ability
to change speeds has scouts and executives around the game projecting big things for the Florida native. "At first when I
was doing it, I had no idea I was doing it," the right-hander commented about the wide range of velocity on his pitches. "Everyone
kept saying ‘you’re changing’ speeds, and I was like ‘cool.’ I don’t know how I am doing
it, it just happens. Now I try to use it to my advantage, I don’t know it helps -- people say it helps, but I don’t
know if it does. Sometimes my soft one gets hit, sometimes my hard one gets hit."
Because of his style and poise on the mound, Greinke, who won the 2001
Gatorade High School Player of the Year award, draws comparisons to 300 game winner and future Hall of Famer, Greg Maddux.
The youngster however, seemed to be uncomfortable about such lofty praise.
"It’s cool to be compared to Hall of Fame pitchers like that, but
I don’t know what to say about that," he commented. "(Maddux) has pitched forever now and done great every year -- maybe
not his first year or two -- but, he’s just a stud now."
While the Royals may want to completely write off the 2004 season as a
miserable failure, Zack Greinke’s rookie campaign was anything but. Now that he’s gotten a taste of the major
league lifestyle, the top pitching prospect in the game plans on staying for a long time, "It’s tough playing on a team
that’s going through so many struggles, but it’s nice being in the big leagues with nice hotels and first class
facilities that you are playing in," Greinke explained. "In the minors things are just not as good."
-David Zingler, November 2004