Friday, Sept. 5, 2003
Greene low-keys highlights
By Bill Center
September 5, 2003
On his first play as a Padre on Wednesday, Khalil Greene raced in and backhanded a tricky hopper hit by Arizona's Steve Finley.
Without straightening or stopping, the shortstop whipped a cross-body bullet that beat Finley to first base by a stride.
"Did you see that?" Padres reliever Rod Beck said later. "One play and he's on the highlight reel. Who is this guy?"
He's Khalil Greene, 23, shortstop, product of Key West, Fla., and Clemson University . . . and the first member of the 2002 draft class to make it to the majors.
But as Beck and other Padres were discussing Greene's auspicious late-inning cameo Wednesday – he also flied out on the eighth pitch of his first at-bat – Greene was nowhere to be found.
Rather than celebrate his major league debut, Greene retired to the training room to do what he does best – work.
"Khalil is a very interesting person," said Bill Gayton, the Padres' director of scouting and the man who made the final decision to take the 5-foot-11, 205-pound college senior with the 13th pick in the 2002 draft.
"He is very prepared. He has a tremendous desire to succeed . . . extremely motivated. He is very grounded."
"Khalil is very quiet," said general manager Kevin Towers. "But he's a baseball junkie with an insatiable work ethic. When we were scouting him, there was this rumor that he'd take 200 grounders before a college game. We sort of laughed.
"And he took 200 ground balls. He practices plays that he might have to make only once or twice in his career."
"I have a pretty regimented personality," Greene said, having returned to the clubhouse from his workout long after most of his new teammates had departed.
"Once a task is presented, I focus all my energy on the job and try not to get ahead of that. I like routines. I enjoy training. Training and weightlifting are things I look forward to in the offseason."
If you are looking for flashy one-liners, you won't get them from Greene. Any flash is in the way he plays, not the style.
Describing his first fielding gem as a Padre, Greene said matter-of-factly: "I've made that play before. I'd rather make plays off the side. Sometimes it's the balls hit right at me that give me trouble."
And that was it. No smirk, no smile, no grin, no sign of accomplishment.
"Khalil's not very excitable," said Gayton, "and that is intriguing to us. There's not a lot of highs and lows. He takes care of himself. He's hard to get to know, but once you get to know him everyone loves him.
Not a word heard often in baseball.
"I'm pretty low-key," Greene acknowledged. "And I'm not very excitable. I'm just the way I am. I do not get too fired up by most things."
Much of that has to do with Greene's background.
He was raised in the Baha'i faith in the most remote southeast corner of the United States.
Among the tenets of Bahaism, which originated in Iran in the mid-19th century, are universal brotherhood, social equality and balance. And while many in the outside world view Key West as a mecca of counterculture, Greene sees it as a "small-town atmosphere . . . an island pace of life."
"My faith and background are a big part of it," Greene said in discussing his approach to life.
"I have a perspective on it. You look at the overall of why you are here. You try to find a happy medium . . . not overly excitable or too upset
"Baseball is an aspect of my life. It doesn't dominate the thought process of my life. It's not my entire being."
That said, when Greene is playing baseball, he throws himself into the game.
"My standards for my personal performance are higher than what the Padres organization has set for me," he said. "You have to expect to do well and work toward that. You have to be confident."
Besides, you can't play baseball in Key West unless you are driven . . . like four hours across the Florida Keys to play your nearest opponent in Miami. "We were state champions in the third-biggest division three of the four years I played at Key West," he says.
But not many scouts visit Key West. To gain a scholarship at Clemson, Greene again traveled to the mainland to attend "showcase" camps and tournaments.
He played four full seasons at Clemson and is the Tigers' career leader in almost every offensive category except homers. In 2002 he won the Golden Spikes Award as the collegiate game's top player.
Still, many clubs thought the Padres overdrafted Greene with the 13th pick. A year earlier, the Cubs had taken him in the 14th round.
The Padres loved his bat more than his glove and as early as draft day talked about how he might have to move to second or third base to make it to the majors.
"We selected him to be an offensive shortstop," said Gayton.
"I'm not the flashiest defender," said Greene. "And when the scouts are looking at your bat first . . . but I've always thought I was a pretty good glove."
It didn't take Greene long to sell the Padres on that point, triggering a rapid rise through the system.
Greene debuted in June 2002 with the Padres' rookie-level team in Eugene, Ore. After only 10 games, he was skipped to high-Class A Lake Elsinore, where he hit .317 with nine homers and 32 RBI in 46 games.
Greene opened the 2003 season with Class AA Mobile (.275 with three homers and 25 RBI in 59 games) and was promoted to Class AAA Portland in June when Beavers shortstop Donaldo Mendez was recalled to San Diego to temporarily replace the injured Ramon Vazquez.
Greene was to have returned to Mobile when Mendez returned to Portland, but Greene wowed the organization with both his bat (.288, 10 homers, 47 RBI in 76 games) and glove. When Vazquez healed and Mendez was bumped back to the Beavers, Greene stayed at short and Mendez became a utility man.
Now Greene is in San Diego.
"He's going to be a multidimensional shortstop," said Towers. "Offensively, he attacks the ball and is very aggressive. Defensively, he has great instincts and body control. And he's rich in confidence."
©Copyright 2003, SanDiego Union-Tribune (CA, USA)
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