Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Padres' Greene refuses to accept negative labels

Jason P. Skoda
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 20, 2008 12:00 AM

Khalil Greene is a thinking man in a reactionary sport.

The San Diego shortstop doesn't respond to reporters' questions with something that can be clipped out of a ballplayer's handbook on dealing with the media and, although it's refreshing for the media, Greene's unique thought process can confound him - and his deep thinking works its way into his game. The 28-year-old has been known to change his stance at the plate during games or even at-bats.

"I'm a rhythm, timing hitter, so it comes and it goes," Greene said. "In time, things start to click, and you go from there."

It's been a point of criticism against the 2004 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up, but most of that talk disappeared last season when Greene was named the Padres' MVP by San Diego media.

"I don't analyze in those terms," Greene said. "I'm glad to be recognized to a certain extent, but it's not why I play the game.

"I'm interested in trying to get better, play well, win games, be entertaining and all of those things."

It came together when Greene stayed healthy all season for the first time, hitting 27 home runs and driving in 97 runs, blowing away career highs of 15 home runs and 70 RBIs.

Greene's average, which may never approach Tony Gwynn's worst for a full season (.309), was the second highest of his career at .254 - also his career average - as he played in a personal-high 153 games.

"I don't know if he was a different player," Padres outfielder Brian Giles said. "Last year was the first year he was healthy for a full season. He broke his finger, he broke his toe, and it's not easy when you miss a significant amount of time."

Greene, who was born near Pittsburgh but spent most of his youth in Key West, Fla., before heading to Clemson, is approaching the season like all of the rest.

"Essentially, it's a matter of staying on the field and continue improving," he said. "I don't have a mission statement going into the season."

The race in the NL West should be one of the better ones in baseball, and Greene's continued development will be essential for the Padres.

"(The division) was ostracized a little bit to a certain extent in '04 and '05," said Greene, who had only 11 errors last season. "Then it seems like a lot of young players were developed in the division with Colorado, Arizona and Los Angeles as well."

The improvement in the division plays into one of Greene's pet peeves when it comes to labels or stereotyping. The "NL Worst" depictions were general observations and didn't take in the whole picture. Similar to calling him injury prone - or saying he is a good fit in San Diego based on his surfer-look blond hair.

"I always take heed in labeling guys a certain way," he said. "People have certain expectations of what you should be like based on what you look like or what you've done in the past, and I am always hesitant to do that."

The same goes for suggesting the Padres might be fueled this season by their slide at the end of 2007, when they ended up in a tie for the NL wild card with the Rockies before losing in the one-game playoff.

"I find it ironic or interesting when people define the entire season by the end result," Greene said. "I don't do that. I don't look at the last at-bat of your career or the last play of the season when it's a negative, and say, 'OK, well, then the whole year was a waste.'

"I never look at a negative as a motivational factor to try and prove people wrong."

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