"We get really heated in ping pong," Patton said. "It started out he would lose every one and then eventually he got good enough to where he could compete, and now it's back and forth with us every time. He does that with everything. He tries to master everything."

No one has experienced that competitiveness, or seen the tenderness that belies it, more than Arrieta's wife, Brittany. They attended the same elementary school. They began dating as high school juniors. They attended TCU together.

"You can't explain him," she said. "He is kind of his own breed of person."

Once an elite-level gymnast in Texas, Brittany understands an athlete's non-stop motor. Then there's her husband's overdrive.

"I'm terrible at ping pong, and if I don't take it seriously he gets upset," Brittany Arrieta said. "But it's because he wants me to be just as good as he is. But he'd get super upset if I beat him."

For every story about Arrieta's relentlessness, there's one about his soft side. How he once gave a young fan one of his baseball caps to use to collect autographs because the kid was having players sign aMcDonald'sbag.

Or how he's taken up photography and spent one evening this spring with his mother-in-law snapping shots of the picturesque Sarasota sunset. Or how he has taken his wife to every midnight premiere of the Twilight series movies.

When Brittany was pregnant with the couple's first child, Cooper, Arrieta taped the ultrasound picture to his locker. Patton jokes that Arrieta now puts 50 photos of his 6-month-old son on his Facebook page daily. Recently, he and a friend spent three hours in a Target testing out toys — for Cooper, of course.

"Off the field, he's just the biggest goofball," Brittany Arrieta said. "But anything he does in life, he does 100 percent. He does nothing halfheartedly."

"Working himself to death"

Throughout his career, that has been Arrieta's biggest asset and primary downfall. He was a good high school pitcher, but was overshadowed by other prep right-handers in Texas. He kept working, and for several years took private pitching lessons from former major league closer Mike Henneman, who stressed the mental side of the game.

When Henneman met Arrieta he was impressed with the teen's size and strength. Then he got to know Arrieta's worth ethic, willingness to take instruction, and indefatigable determination.

"If I got into a fight, I'd take him with me if there were two guys against me," Henneman said. "Jake ain't gonna back down from nothing."

In 2004, Arrieta was selected out of high school in the 31st round by the Cincinnati Reds, but he turned them down. He had a partial scholarship to Oklahoma State, but went to junior college to enhance his draft status. He was selected that next year by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 26th round and eschewed them for a scholarship to TCU, where he led the nation in wins as a sophomore.

There was plenty of buzz heading into his junior year with the Horned Frogs, and Arrieta, who by then had grown five inches and packed on 30 pounds of muscle in a five-year span, was gunning to be a first-round draftee.

His workouts and conditioning were already off the charts — "He's probably the hardest worker I've ever been around," says Carpenter. "We'd go out to eat and get college stuff like hamburgers and he'd order grilled fish and vegetables" — but Arrieta took it too far.

He worked out in the gym every day during his junior season. And wore himself down. His velocity dropped. So did his draft stock. Eventually, TCU's head baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle made an executive decision.

"I banned him from the weight room," Schlossnagle said. "He was actually working himself to death. As a professional, I think he has learned the middle ground of that."

"Chip on my shoulder"

Arrieta's sub-par junior year knocked him out of the first round. And whispers that he and his agent, Scott Boras, were asking for more than $1 million sunk him further. Teams weren't interested at that price. So Arrieta attended a draft party with friends and family and became increasingly embarrassed. Finally, the Orioles, who didn't have a second- or third-round pick, bit. They selected him in the fifth round, giving him an eye-popping $1.1 million signing bonus.