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Greinke has grown up over past year

Greinke has grown up over past year

KANSAS CITY -- For an innocent-looking blond kid who once was shy and introverted, today's Zack Greinke by comparison seems sociable and outgoing.

This is the Cy Young Award-winning Zack Greinke, fresh off the kind of a baseball season that would give anyone a world of confidence. And this is the just-married Zack Greinke, fresh from a honeymoon with his lovely wife Emily.

When a lady at a Royals FanFest question-and-answer session last week politely and rather cleverly asked: "Was your honeymoon in Cooperstown?" the slow-talking Greinke had a droll reply.

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"It was in Hawaii for three weeks. It was great for the first two weeks and then it just got long," he said, prompting a wave of laughter in the crowd. Quickly, he added: "But being married has been great so far."

There was even some personal sharing with the fans when Donald Zackary Greinke was asked why he didn't go by his first name.

"In either kindergarten or first grade, they'd call me Donald Duck and I'd cry about it," he confessed.

Greinke, in Kansas City, naturally was the center of attention. Six TV cameras and a dozen or so reporters hemmed him in at a Royals Awards Night media session. He patiently went through autograph sessions and starred in the main stage Q & A at the FanFest.

Next Saturday night, he'll be in New York for the baseball writers' bash to receive his first American League Cy Young Award. But, as he often said during his KC visit, he'd just as soon been working out somewhere or throwing a baseball.

The old Zack Greinke is still there. He's guarding his time, limiting his appearances. Media interviews are few and kept short.

And while he's a recognizable hero in Kansas City, he's still rather anonymous elsewhere. Even in his hometown of Orlando, Fla., he's generally unnoticed. At the gym there where he works out, the whispers got around that he was a baseball player and a Cy Young winner.

"A couple of guys were calling me 'Tim' at the gym because they thought I was Tim Lincecum," he said with a grin. "So that's how it is."

And that suits him just fine. When a boy asked Greinke how he felt about winning the award, he was quite honest as usual.

"It's great on one part, terrible on another part. No one wants to hear that," he said. "That's what you want to do in your life -- become as good as you could become. But also I don't like all the attention that goes with it. ... It's great, but it's also annoying."

For a guy who lost 17 games in 2005 and quit baseball for two months in '06 for a social anxiety disorder, Greinke has come a long way.

"Knowing what he went through off the field, all the adversity he's been through, that in itself was a good story," said David Cone, a Cy Young winner for the Royals in 1994. "And the way he pitched was really remarkable. I love the style. He knows what he's doing out there, that's the most impressive part. He's got command of all his pitches, on both sides of the plate."

He's got some Cone style to him, for sure.

And, like Cone in his day, Greinke's post-game routine is to be there for reporters, win or lose. That won't change, but he's learned to ward off the media demands at other times. And he's ready for the post-Cy Young clamor that 2010 will bring.

"I'm sure we'll work out something where I don't talk to you guys very often. That'll make it easier," he told reporters. "With the fans, it'll probably be a little more. But I got used to that as last year went on, so to where it wasn't really a distraction."

Next season will also bring the challenge of measuring up to his Cy Young credentials. Improving on a 16-8 record might be easier than lowering a 2.16 ERA.

Bret Saberhagen, who not only won the World Series but the Cy Young in 1985 for the Royals, recalled that in '86, he went overboard trying to prove he was worthy of the award. He tried to throw too hard, hurt his shoulder and went from 20-6 and 2.87 to 7-12 and 4.15.

"That was the biggest challenge I had to overcome," Saberhagen said. "So if I could give Zack any advice, it'd be come out and be yourself next year, don't try to do too much."

That's precisely what Greinke has in mind. His winter preparation routine will remain the same and his approach in Spring Training will not change. He began lifting weights more a couple of years ago and found that helped keep him stronger throughout the season.

"I try to keep things really simple. I think I got a lot better since doing that," he said. "No matter what I do, it's just stay to the basics and don't try to get out of control. And just repeat that and repeat that and repeat that. Just try to do that again next year and when you do that and you don't make the mistakes to allow the other team to beat you, that makes it easier. Because when you make mistakes, that's when the big trouble happens."

Greinke was doing some reading and noticed a quote from Royals pitching coach Bob McClure that he still had "a ways to go" and could get even better.

"That's exactly how I feel," he said. "I feel like I could be a better pitcher. But to put up better numbers, things will have to go right. There are things I could improve on, pitching-wise. And I think I will next year and a couple of years after that, too."

Better than 2009, of course, would take some doing.

Greinke was asked, looking back on his Cy Young season, if he really considered himself the best pitcher in the league.

"I thought I was," he said.

He said it softly, but there's sure nothing shy about that.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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