Zack Greinke believes anxiety issues are behind him
29-year-old pitcher heading into 1st season with Dodgers
Anxiety held sway over Zack Greinke since before high school, gnawing at his insides, leaving him with what felt like no escape from his fears.
The dread became worse as attention grew for the star pitcher, reaching a pinnacle seven years ago, when he walked away from baseball.
Now? Barely a blip on his psyche.
Certainly, anxiety is there, and probably always will be, lurking in the back of his mind. It's just not an all-encompassing feeling anymore.
Even as he prepares to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of baseball's best-known franchises in one of the nation's largest population centres, Greinke can keep anxiety at bay.
"I don't think about it at all. I don't get stressed by it," Greinke said Friday from the Dodgers' spring training facility. "It's just something that was a problem before, but it isn't now. I'm sure it could be somewhere in the future, but it's not anything that affects me."
Anxiety grew for Greinke as he made his way through professional baseball and boiled over in 2006, when he left the Kansas City Royals during spring training for treatment of social anxiety disorder.
He nearly stayed away for good.
Growing up, Greinke was taught to do what he wanted to do, so when the anxiety made playing baseball a chore, he took the lesson to an extreme level by looking for an exit from the game that had made him famous.
"That was kind of my thought: why am I putting myself through torture when I don't really want to do it?" he said. "I enjoy playing, but I didn't enjoy anything else about it, so I was like, I'll go do something I want to do, that I have a passion for and that was my thought process when I left."
Greinke did return, though, and worked his way back to the majors by September. Three years later, he turned himself into one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, winning the 2009 AL Cy Young Award.
After a so-so 2010 season, Greinke was traded to Milwaukee and spent two seasons with the Brewers before signing a six-year, $147 million US deal with the free-spending Dodgers this off-season.
Greinke managed to handle his rise in fame and the attention that goes with it by taking Zoloft, an antidepressant used by millions of people. Save for a short period in 2007 when he changed up his medication routine and had a few problems, it's worked perfectly.
"It wasn't that hard after I got the medicine," Greinke said. "The medicine was the greatest thing ever. I may have gotten lucky and found the right one. The only problem I have with it is that it makes me a little tired, but not real tired. That's the only complaint I have. I know it's not always that easy, but for me it was. I was lucky with that."
Greinke still doesn't enjoy the fame that comes from being so good at throwing a baseball.
Naturally reticent, he will fulfil his media duties, but rarely does more than he has to. Fans want to talk to him? That's fine, but his preference would be that they don't.
Same thing with teammates. He's fine with having a real conversation if someone wants to have one, but doesn't want to talk just for the sake of talking.
"I like learning stuff, but I don't want to talk about nothing or less than nothing," he said. "If it's something important, I'm fine with it, but if it's hey Zack, how was your day? 'My day was good.' That's going to be my answer. I don't know how it gets any deeper than that. Does someone ask that and they actually tell them how their day went, what really happens? I have no interest in that."
Greinke's past problems with anxiety and his reserved nature were never an issue for the Dodgers.
"I didn't know really what to expect when we met with him in the winter," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Once we met with him, it really was a non-issue. He was upfront with the issues and how he deals with it. It never became something we really worry about."
It's still early in spring training, but Greinke seems to be fitting in with his new team.
On Friday, he sat at his locker chatting with a couple of teammates who came by. He's also shown off his chops as a baseball junkie, chatting with Mattingly about players in the organization and the team's recent draft.
"It takes all types, it really does," Mattingly said. "Some guys are going to be funny, some guys are going to be loud, some are going to be quiet. There's just different guys. Matt Kemp is going to be different than a Carl Crawford, but it takes all types to make a club. Really when you get down to does the guy compete, does he prepare, is he a good teammate?"
Greinke has competed and been prepared. Now he's dealing better with everything that goes with it, too.