This silent shortstop has Padres buzzing
By Chris Jenkins
July 14, 2003
CHICAGO – The first name, bestowed on him by parents who committed themselves and their family to the Baha'i faith, means "friend of God."
If its Middle Eastern origin doesn't quite fit his last name and Huck Finn visage – reddish blond hair spilling out from beneath an oversized blue Padres cap pulled down close over the brow – its translation definitely suits his calm and quiet demeanor.
Even, perhaps especially, now that Khalil Greene is hat-deep in the hoopla.
Yesterday, the Padres' first-round draft choice of 2002 wore his parent club's cap for the first time as a player in a major league ballpark, U.S. Cellular Field. Greene, representing the Class AAA Portland Beavers and being touted as a possible September call-up by Padres general manager Kevin Towers, played shortstop for Team USA in major league baseball's Futures Game.
Greene and Josh Barfield, the hot-hitting second baseman who's tearing up the Class A California League with the Padres' affiliate in Lake Elsinore, were installed as the middle infield in the fifth inning. Both went hitless in sixth-inning at-bats.
But they had a hand in the finish. Team USA wrapped up its 3-2 victory over the World Team with Greene flipping a force-out throw to Barfield on a fielder's-choice grounder thrown by Royce Ring, the left-handed closer from San Diego State and the New York Mets organization.
"It went pretty much as I expected," said Greene. "Nothing spectacular."
All around Greene, some of the game's brightest prospects looked like Little Leaguers, the excitement showing in their expressions and words about playing on such a stage as part of All-Star Game festivities.
By contrast, beyond respectfully saying what an honor it was to be chosen, Greene was remarkably reserved about the occasion. Just as his playing style is not razzle, his outlook is not dazzled, and his first name is the first hint why.
"The Baha'i faith is big on the development of character," said Greene. "It relates well to the game because it helps you steady yourself, helps you put things in perspective."
As anybody who's spent any time around the 23-year-old will tell you, he is a most unassuming and low-key fellow, not what you expect of a former college Player of the Year who's being hyped as an almost sure-thing big league shortstop.
"Khalil's a great kid, and a great talent," said Jeff Gardner, the Lake Elsinore Storm manager who had Greene the last half of last year. "And very, very, very quiet."
Greene offers no argument.
"That is my personality," said Greene. "I come from a blue-collar family that appreciated everything we had. I'm not really outgoing."
No problem there. Because there are lots of others taking up Greene's cause, most notably Towers, whose raves have been backed up with promotions.
After hitting .317 with nine homers and 32 RBI in 46 games with Lake Elsinore, Greene began this year at AA Mobile and struggled, but he's taken full advantage of a bump to AAA that was prompted by an injury to Padres shortstop Ramon Vazquez. Originally, the plan was to return Greene to Mobile once Vazquez was reactivated, but Greene's .357 average and 20 RBI over 21 games changed the Padres minds.
This, too, he's handled in stride.
"Baseball's baseball," said Greene. "I've had some growing pains, but felt good wherever I've been. It wasn't necessarily the baseball that you have to adapt to; it's the newness of it all, especially at the start. Everything's different. You're not in school anymore. You're playing with new teammates all the way across the country. You're using a wood bat."
Oh yeah. That. Wood. Not aluminum. It's the first question always asked of any former college star, in Greene's case, a star who batted better than .470 his last year at Clemson.
"Everything's different about it," said Greene. "There's so much you can get away with with an aluminum bat. There's so much more room for error with your swing."
Gloves in both college and the pros are all made of leather, however, and it's with his defense that Greene has made the biggest impression on the Padres. He said that's where he's made his greatest improvement since his college days, simply because there's so much more time to work on defense as a professional.
He certainly doesn't lack for people banking their hopes on him. The Padres haven't had a home-grown shortstop since . . . well, that guy who happened to be warming up with Greene during infield practice yesterday.
As is his tradition, Ozzie Smith works out with the Futures teams. Smith also was drafted by the Padres out of college. Not the least bit awed, Greene approached Smith with a handshake and something he doesn't share with everybody.
"Just chit chat," said Greene, matter-of-factly. "But, yeah, that was cool."
Royce rolls with tradeRoyce Ring had envisioned it going almost like this. He'd close out the Futures Game, just as he had at San Diego State, which he'd attended out of Monte Vista High.
The perfect part was that the game was at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, who'd done the extraordinary by making Ring their No. 1 draft choice.
OK, so nothing's perfect.
Ring was representing the New York Mets, who thought enough of him to demand the minor league lefty in the trade for certain Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar last month. At the time of the deal, Ring already had been informed he'd be wearing the White Sox cap at the Futures Game, all the more reason to think his future really was secure with Chicago.
"That's baseball," said Ring, who's pitching for the Mets' AA club in Binghamton. "When I was traded, I didn't even know if I'd get to play in this game. I'm just glad I did."
©Copyright 2003, The Union-Tribune (San Diego, CA, USA)
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