UPDATED 8 / 1/2003
Not your everyday baseball player
By JASON VONDERSMITH     Issue date: Fri, Aug 1, 2003
One can't blame Portland Beavers shortstop Khalil Greene for downplaying his life. What's interesting to others is normal and mundane to him.
But if he makes the big leagues someday, he better know that ESPN will come knocking on the San Diego Padres' clubhouse door wanting to tell his story to 40 million people.
It starts with the funky name. Khalil means "friend of God," and his middle name of Thabit means "steadfast" in the Bahai faith. He has straight blond hair that he wears slicked back.
Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, Greene moved as a youngster with his parents to Key West, Fla., where he lived among the freaky people the kind who show their true colors for Fantasy Fest and New Year's Eve and pray to the god known as Jimmy Buffett.
It wasn't until Greene moved away that he realized how diverse the hometown crowd is.
"One of the bigger little cities you'll find," he says. "So many cultures blended together."
His father and mother, both jewelers, raised their kid in the Bahai faith, which he describes as "oneness of mankind, equality of gender and races" and "a progression of revelations and religions."
"Fastest-growing religion in the world," says Greene, who nonetheless hasn't met any other ballplayers of the Bahai faith. "We believe in Jesus Christ, (prophet) Mohammed and Moses and all their writings, but further it with the Baha Allah, who came to preach the faith as a manifestation of God. It's not pacifism."
Simply, "it's not a deviation, it's a supplementation."
Careful about diet
Greene, 23, has been on a nutritional kick for about five years. He eats with his teammates only sparingly, often sitting by himself in his hotel room chowing down chicken, tuna and egg white.
Here Greene calls the story slightly "overrated."
"I don't go in a corner or eat in a dark room," he says. He does, however, refrain from drinking alcohol, which the Bahai faith prohibits. And he keeps to himself; he's quite quiet.
And, he says other stories have made too much of his fashion sense, so creative that his teammates at Clemson University never knew what Greene would be wearing onto planes for road trips.
"I'm pretty reserved for the most part, but I've got a keen fashion sense," he says. "I can put things together." Call him cool Khalil.
In terms of baseball, he could be described as somewhat out of the ordinary. Today's shortstops should be fast, hit for power or average and be slick fielders. Perhaps the expectations of shortstops have been skewed by the presence of greats like Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada in the big leagues.
The 5-11, 190-pound Greene doesn't do anything great, yet, but he does everything the right way, and with intensity, Portland Manager Rick Sweet says. "I like everything about him."
A year removed from a great career at Clemson and being drafted No. 13 overall by the Padres, Greene expected to play only at Class AA Mobile this year. But the Padres promoted him to Portland, with the plan to send him back down when Donaldo Mendez got healthy. He hit five home runs in June, batted .357 and hasn't looked back.
Entering Thursday's game, Greene was hitting .305 with six home runs and 28 RBIs. He has walked only six times, but has a .357 on-base percentage. If he ever learns to be patient, he should be in the .400 OBP range.
Eye to the future
What will be Greene's calling card in the big leagues?
"I'm going to be a solid player," he says. "I'll make routine plays and an outstanding play if need be. Offensively, I'm more of a line-drive hitter with an ability to hit the home run.
"Time will tell. Players develop differently. Look at Barry Bonds, I don't think anyone would have predicted he'd be able to hit 70 home runs. Well, he might have."
And Greene already knows how to play second and third base, which may help his cause. Shortstops are generally among the best athletes on the team, but Greene scoffs at critics who say only Hispanics and blacks end up being great shortstops, not short white guys.
"I've got a lot more athleticism than people realize," he says.
Contact Jason Vondersmith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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