SHADES OF GREENE: Clemson shortstop Khalil Greene is one of college baseball's best players and maybe its most unique
Clemson shortstop Khalil Greene, the 2002 ACC player of the year, had opened up more to Tiger fans and his teammates this season.
[Ken Ruinard Anderson Independent-Mail]
The standing ovations seem to come as frequently as the hits.
FUELING THE MERCEDES
There are rules, and there are rules that dont always have to be applied.
Attending breakfast meals with the team is optional for Greene, who often eats nutritionally in his room.
I know hes eating right and I know hes not sleeping, so Im fine with it because Im not sure any kid Ive ever had has the respect of his teammates as a baseball player as much as Khalil has, Leggett says. If he came down to breakfast he wouldnt eat the stuff. Hes got his own concoction going.
A stickler for health, Greene lifted weights and drank protein shakes regularly when he arrived at Clemson in the fall of 1998. He began cutting back on late-night snacks once he read health magazines, and instead turned to a protein diet for lower cholesterol.
He treats his body like its a newly bought Mercedes Benz, and hes putting the best gas in it, assistant coach Tim Corbin says.
Out: pizza, cookies and hamburgers. In: yogurt, egg whites, chicken (but only grilled), steak, salmon, tuna, protein bars, pasta, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, bread and vegetables.
I dont necessarily eat for a lot of enjoyment, but I think all the food I eat tastes good, Greene explains. I think if your body feels good and you feel good about the way youre working and eating, youre going to play better. Maybe its just a psychological thing.
There is comfort in his routines. He is a strong believer in analyzing the game, to become knowledgeable of the tendencies of each hitter and pitcher so his brains muscle memory can react precisely when its called upon.
The more he knows something, the less he fears it.
It backfired some in the past. There were times when Greene thought too much, particularly in 2001 when the draft loomed over the entire year and he batted .303, 71 points below his current career average.
The Chicago Cubs drafted Greene in the 14th round, but he was disappointed with the pick and returned for his senior year. Change has never sat well with him.
I wasnt particularly up for trying new things as a kid, which I would say still holds true, he says. If I wasnt doing it, I didnt really want to do it. If I had a lot of friends, I didnt really want to meet new people. I like routine, thats one thing you can say.
There are rules, and there are rules that dont always have to be applied.
Janet Greene encountered a grade-school teacher who thought it was funny that Khalils goal was to play professional baseball. The teacher said everyone needed a fallback plan and asked what else he wanted to be.
There was no second choice, there never has been, says Janet, a teacher in Greenville. I think you have to do something you want to do or youre doing something youre unhappy with.
Born Oct. 21, 1979, in Butler, Pa., Greene was swinging a Whiffle ball bat by the age of 2. His father still has a ball the boy literally hit the cover off.
Jim Greene, an independent jeweler and artist, moved the family to Key West, Fla., when Khalil was 5 for a job opportunity. He had played slow-pitch baseball for one year in football-crazy Pennsylvania, but turned to soccer initially in Florida, where he developed quick feet as a goalie and forward.
Finally, Tony Dabila an old Cuban man whose son was friends with Greene had seen enough of the talented kid outplaying other children in the neighborhood. Papa Tony, as everyone called him, took Greene to a baseball practice, and suddenly the kid was playing catcher.
Greene took an avid interest in his statistics while in Little League. If he was leading the league in batting average, he also wanted to be ahead in home runs.
I was always one of the better players and we had draft picks, so Id always be on the worst team every year, he says. It would be just me and wed suck. So I always learned to motivate myself. Then as you got older, the statistics became less important and playing well as a team became more important.
Baseball is a way of life in Key West, a tiny island town south of Miami. Crowds exceeding 2,000 would attend games at Greenes Key West High School, which has won the most state championships in Florida and produced former major leaguer Boog Powell.
Down there, you drink, fish or play baseball, Jim Greene says, and we didnt want him drinking.
There were other activities besides baseball that interested Khalil. He enjoyed art and made drawings in sketchbooks, painted a mural of Pink Floyd on the art room door, and drew a portrait of Abdul-Baha, who was the eldest son of the founder of the Bahai Faith.
Greene considered becoming an art major in college, but the classes interfered with baseball so he became an honor-roll student by majoring in sociology.
He excelled as a shortstop at Key West High and batted .500 with seven home runs and 45 RBI in the teams state championship season of 1998. Disappointed by not being drafted, Greene chose Clemson over Miami for college.
Key West remains an important place for Greene, even though his family moved to Greer three years ago.
While he considered signing with the Cubs last summer, Greene lived with friends in Key West and relaxed from June through August. It was his first extended time away from baseball since he was a high school freshman.
It helped to come back in the fall anxious and happy to play baseball, Greene says. I was just trying to reevaluate some things that went right and wrong last year and try to come in with a clean slate.
There are rules, and there are rules that must always be applied.
The Greene family practices the Bahai Faith, the youngest of the worlds independent religions, which believes other religions represent a successive stage in the spiritual development of civilization. At the heart of the belief is the conviction that humanity is a single people with a common destiny.
Among the standards set are not drinking alcohol and taking intoxicants unless under a doctors prescription, and, as Jim Greene quotes from memory, dignity before God depends not on sex but purity.
The Bahai faith is something thats really helped me out in leading my life a certain way, Greene says. I lead my life as you would want someone to see you so they say, Hes a Bahai, and thats a positive thing.
Greene was like a fish out of water when he arrived at Clemson, says Kyle Frank, a team captain and his roommate as a freshman. I think hes the type of guy that doesnt really feel comfortable or confident until he establishes himself with baseball.
No one could quite figure out the player with the flowing blond hair who barely uttered a word. All they knew was he could hit. And no one could argue with a .358 batting average and 69 RBI from a freshman.
As a sophomore, Greene was voted the Tigers most valuable player by his teammates and hated the idea of accepting the award before 80,000 fans at a football game. He reluctantly went and disappeared after the presentation.
It was an ordeal just to get him to come, Leggett says. Now he comes to the games and sits with you and laughs with you and helps you out with recruiting.
Greene is known for his quick wit with one-liners that cause teammates and coaches to burst out laughing. Associate athletics director Bill DAndrea arrived at practice once riding a motorcycle and offered a ride to Greene, who replied in his monotone voice without missing a beat, Ill drive and you be in the sidecar.
Then there are the outfits, which Leggett can only describe as unbelievable, that he shocks his teammates with on plane trips. Greene has been known to wear white leisure suits, snakeskin cowboy boots and fur coats.
Im not going to be embarrassed to wear it, he says. If I think it looks good, Ill put it on.
Greene doesnt have an active social life and really doesnt mind. He hasnt had a girlfriend at Clemson Maybe when Im in the big leagues Ill have one and doesnt know how he would meet one since he doesnt hit the night scene often.
I dont need to have a big group of people, he says. If Im by myself, Im pleased with that. I definitely dont have a problem being alone.
Gradually, players and coaches have noticed Greene opening himself up more.
He talks professional wrestling with Zane Green. He raps with Tyler Lumsden. He socializes with the younger players.
Khalils a real asset to the team now that hes opened up because people look up to him more, Frank says. This year hes come out with the team a little more, like to team parties. Its nice to see him out because we cant win this thing in Omaha unless weve got everybody. Now he comes out and we feel complete. Hes a big part of the team on the field, and wed like to have him with us off the field, too.
Greene reluctantly deals with the media requests. He methodically collects new records and honors. And he continues to produce game after game with the baseball draft and the college postseason scheduled to intersect June 4.
Tip your cap, KG, Leggett reminded the player who has quietly started 261 of 262 games at Clemson and has never missed a game.
I want to be remembered for being consistent more than anything else, Greene says after pausing to consider his legacy. For me, that means a lot more than the records do. There are a lot of guys that probably could have played that much. But they might not have put up the numbers to stay there.
©Copyright 2002, Anderson Independent-Mail