...but when we get to the end, he wants to start all over again.
(From "Stage Fright," Before The Flood)
The day Zack Greinke walked out of spring training with social anxiety disorder in February 2006, I heard about it in the car on the way home from work. I came in the house, flopped down on the couch and told The Amazing Michelle that I wasn't sure it was worth being a Royals fan anymore. I'm sure it was a long diatribe that invoked the names of past Royals pitching disappointments like Jim Pittsley, Jose Rosado, Dan Reichert, Chad Durbin and others. I couldn't believe that this seeming sure thing had apparently fallen through. And this was worse, because it wasn't an arm injury or just an inability to get hitters out. No, this was a mental issue. It seemed like there was no end to the bizarre ways the Royals franchise and fans could be let down.
This is not to belittle or diminish what Greinke was dealing with. I've battled depression and have family members with anxiety disorder. I can't imagine them going out and doing anything with thousands of people watching their every move. And I've certainly been in situations where I didn't want to be working there anymore and hated every minute. At that point in his life, by his own admission, Greinke hated baseball and just wanted to walk away.
I should add that, while I was of course concerned about the Royals, it saddened me to think that someone with so much obvious talent could be walking away from his ability at such a young age. Sure, he had struggled some in the previous season--that was a terrible team he was on, and he obviously was not happy with his situation. But to just walk away and give up on his gifts...well, it was upsetting.
Allard Baird and Buddy Bell may not have done the Royals many favors in their tenures, but we certainly owe them thanks for putting Greinke's personal needs ahead of the team's. It would have been easy for them to demand he stay with the team, but they let him have the time to work out his problems. So Greinke got treatment, and slowly but surely came back to baseball.
He showed plenty of promise last season, but this year Greinke has been simply amazing. Three years ago, on that day that seemed to be the lowest low in Royals' history, it seemed impossible that the story would turn out well. But here we are. Greinke has five wins, is leading all of baseball with a 0.50 ERA, and is tied with Johan Santana for the major league lead in strikeouts. And of course, there's this:
I used to worry about how Greinke would handle the pressure of being the Royals' ace, or how he would react if the Royals were in a pennant race or even the playoffs. Now, I don't worry about the former. And if Greinke keeps pitching anywhere close to this level, I think the Royals have a good chance at the latter. And I think Zack will be just fine then, too.