Loving life on winning team

MILWAUKEE — Sometimes Zack Greinke goes to a park not far from his new home and stares out at Lake Michigan. This is his favorite part of this new place. Maybe he'll get a boat. He'd like that.

Everything here is new. Everything feels fresh. The Brewers are in first place and Greinke is undefeated at home in his new life.


Back in that old life, in Kansas City, Mo., the closest the Royals were to first place this time of year was 18 games behind. Here, in this new life, the Brewers already are thinking about how to set up their playoff rotation.

"It's been a lot more fun, but the main thing is there's a lot less negative times," he says. "Times where you lose a lot, you go home mad a lot more. You just get in a bad mood, and a lot of times, when the fifth inning comes around and you're down by one, you think you're going to lose. It just sucks."


Greinke knows that other life all too well. The Royals lost an average of 97 games in his seven seasons, enough misery with no end in sight that he admittedly lost focus and passion and forced a trade.

That's all gone now. Teammates talk about his trash talk. Coaches talk about his focus. The general manager talks about trying to keep him beyond the contract that runs through next year.

Greinke has been dominant and he has been awful and he has even been hurt for the first time. He wore the wrong jersey to pinch hit once, chopped his shaggy hair into a crew cut and hit his first home run since 2005. He's striking out more batters than ever, walking as few as during his Cy Young season in 2009 and giving up more homers than any time since he quit baseball and started taking medication for depression and social anxiety disorder.

Advanced numbers like home run rate and xFIP indicate that Greinke is pitching terrifically but with horrible luck. A friendship with former Royals pitcher Brian Bannister turned Greinke into something of a stat geek, so he knows all the stats but says he's not doing a good enough job stranding runners once they reach base.

He's a bit of a different pitcher now than we saw in Kansas City, still with a dominant slider but less reliant on his fastball and more trusting in a soft curveball.

"I started really pitching more since the All-Star break," he says, the emphasis to let you know he means pitch selection and location.

"It's not like when I was a rookie and was just throwing soft, but it's not like a couple of years ago when I just threw as hard as I could and it seemed to work."

Everything around Greinke is about to get more intense. He knows this. Prince Fielder is the wild-swinging, shaggy-haired, walk-off-dancing face of this team, but the vibe will be different when a comfortable division lead evaporates into a five-game playoff series.


Greinke never has pitched in the playoffs, never even watched a complete postseason game. He has no idea what it will be like and no problem admitting that. So no, Greinke cannot pretend to know what the playoffs are like. But there is nothing in his track record to suggest he'll shrink in the moment.

Anyway, all of that misses the point about what Greinke worries about as this season marches on with more winning than he ever has known. If anything, he's dreading all the off days in the playoffs with nothing to do and the minor annoyances of fame made more difficult by the emotional conditions for which he takes medication.

Like the other day at the grocery store. Greinke was shopping for cereal, or bread, or something, when he heard this guy.

Hey, is that Zack Greinke?

Greinke waved — "that's nicer than I usually am," he says — and walked the other way. He hoped that would be it. But these guys started following him around the aisles, staring, and when they got to the checkout lines Greinke made sure to go way down to the other end of the store.

"People have been talking to me more, and I don't like that," he says. "Everyone seems to be noticing me, looking at me and stuff. I don't like that."


Still, here, in the midst of this playoff push, just feels so … free.

"Everything's, like, easier," he says. "You don't have to worry about, 'We're losing, so I can't do this.' Just simple stuff, everyday stuff, like getting in the shower quick after the game. If you're losing all the time and you get in the shower quick, it's like, 'Oh, this guy doesn't want to be here, because he got in the shower quick and doesn't care that we lost.'

"Now, if you want to go in the shower, you go in the shower. If you want to eat, you go eat. You can just go do stuff and it's not like, 'Why is he doing that?'"

This means a lot to Greinke. He's finding more and more about this new place that he likes. The weather was awful when he first got here. He doesn't think he saw the sun for six weeks, and it drove him crazy, this new place he didn't know and wasn't sure how to get around in and he saw nothing but clouds.

But the last few months have been "the best weather I've ever seen." His wife, Emily, still loves Kansas City but is becoming closer friends with some of the other players' wives. Greinke knows a few restaurants now, has his favorite spot by the water and is pitching for a winning team that mostly lets him be.

Happiness means something different to all of us. This is pretty close to Greinke's definition.


"We've been talking about it lately," he says, meaning his wife. "We really like it here."