Baha'i News -- SHADES OF GREENE: Clemson shortstop Khalil Greene is one of college baseball's best players and maybe its most unique

SHADES OF GREENE: Clemson shortstop Khalil Greene is one of college baseball's best players and maybe its most unique


Clemson shortstop Khalil Greene, the 2002 ACC player of the year, had opened up more to Tiger fans and his teammates this season.
[Ken Ruinard Anderson Independent-Mail]

By Jon Solomon
Anderson Independent-Mail
5/30/2002

The standing ovations seem to come as frequently as the hits.

Khalil Greene becomes the all-time hits leader in ACC history. Khalil Greene moves into second place for NCAA hits. Khalil Greene hits a home run for the fifth consecutive game. Khalil Greene extends his hitting streak to 27 games.

“Tip your cap, KG,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett told him one day. “Show them you know they’re there.”

They cheer for his accomplishments and are aware of the mind-numbing .475 average. They recognize the ACC Player of the Year award he won this week and the national honors to follow. They may even realize they could be watching the greatest baseball player in school history help Clemson win its first national championship.

They don’t see how pleased he is to be alone. Or his deep belief in the Bahai Faith. Or his nutritional protein diet that includes egg whites and tuna. Or his outrageous suits he wears on plane trips. Or his artistic ability to design his high school’s state championship ring.

Or his deep love and knowledge for baseball, the game he has wanted to call his career since he was 4 years old. The game he enjoys so much because it combines the individuality of each person with the responsibility of helping the team win.

Then just when it seems as if Greene doesn’t hear the cheers, he acknowledges them with a raise of his hand and a slight wave. He is so accustomed to it now that he may even take the helmet off.

“That was a major breakthrough for him waving to the crowd,” Leggett says. “He’s always been a good player. But I think he’s a great player now because he’s more outgoing and a lot more confident personally and socially.”

Jim and Janet Greene named their only son Khalil because it means “friend of God” in Bahai. His middle name Thabit means “steadfast.”

“Every father loves their son,” Jim Greene says. “I also admire mine because he is steadfast in what he does toward his goal to play professional baseball, and he’s doing what he feels like it takes to get there.”

 
FUELING THE MERCEDES

There are rules, and there are rules that don’t always have to be applied.

Attending breakfast meals with the team is optional for Greene, who often eats nutritionally in his room.

“I know he’s eating right and I know he’s not sleeping, so I’m fine with it because I’m not sure any kid I’ve ever had has the respect of his teammates as a baseball player as much as Khalil has,” Leggett says. “If he came down to breakfast he wouldn’t eat the stuff. He’s got his own concoction going.”

A stickler for health, Greene lifted weights and drank protein shakes regularly when he arrived at Clemson in the fall of 1998. He began cutting back on late-night snacks once he read health magazines, and instead turned to a protein diet for lower cholesterol.

“He treats his body like it’s a newly bought Mercedes Benz, and he’s putting the best gas in it,” assistant coach Tim Corbin says.

Out: pizza, cookies and hamburgers. In: yogurt, egg whites, chicken (but only grilled), steak, salmon, tuna, protein bars, pasta, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, bread and vegetables.

“I don’t necessarily eat for a lot of enjoyment, but I think all the food I eat tastes good,” Greene explains. “I think if your body feels good and you feel good about the way you’re working and eating, you’re going to play better. Maybe it’s just a psychological thing.”

There is comfort in his routines. He is a strong believer in analyzing the game, to become knowledgeable of the tendencies of each hitter and pitcher so his brain’s muscle memory can react precisely when it’s called upon.

The more he knows something, the less he fears it.

It backfired some in the past. There were times when Greene thought too much, particularly in 2001 when the draft loomed over the entire year and he batted .303, 71 points below his current career average.

The Chicago Cubs drafted Greene in the 14th round, but he was disappointed with the pick and returned for his senior year. Change has never sat well with him.

“I wasn’t particularly up for trying new things as a kid, which I would say still holds true,” he says. “If I wasn’t doing it, I didn’t really want to do it. If I had a lot of friends, I didn’t really want to meet new people. I like routine, that’s one thing you can say.”

 
ONE-TRACK MIND

There are rules, and there are rules that don’t always have to be applied.

Janet Greene encountered a grade-school teacher who thought it was funny that Khalil’s goal was to play professional baseball. The teacher said everyone needed a fallback plan and asked what else he wanted to be.

“There was no second choice, there never has been,” says Janet, a teacher in Greenville. “I think you have to do something you want to do or you’re doing something you’re unhappy with.”

Born Oct. 21, 1979, in Butler, Pa., Greene was swinging a Whiffle ball bat by the age of 2. His father still has a ball the boy literally hit the cover off.

Jim Greene, an independent jeweler and artist, moved the family to Key West, Fla., when Khalil was 5 for a job opportunity. He had played slow-pitch baseball for one year in football-crazy Pennsylvania, but turned to soccer initially in Florida, where he developed quick feet as a goalie and forward.

Finally, Tony Dabila — an old Cuban man whose son was friends with Greene — had seen enough of the talented kid outplaying other children in the neighborhood. Papa Tony, as everyone called him, took Greene to a baseball practice, and suddenly the kid was playing catcher.

Greene took an avid interest in his statistics while in Little League. If he was leading the league in batting average, he also wanted to be ahead in home runs.

“I was always one of the better players and we had draft picks, so I’d always be on the worst team every year,” he says. “It would be just me and we’d suck. So I always learned to motivate myself. Then as you got older, the statistics became less important and playing well as a team became more important.”

Baseball is a way of life in Key West, a tiny island town south of Miami. Crowds exceeding 2,000 would attend games at Greene’s Key West High School, which has won the most state championships in Florida and produced former major leaguer Boog Powell.

“Down there, you drink, fish or play baseball,” Jim Greene says, “and we didn’t want him drinking.”

There were other activities besides baseball that interested Khalil. He enjoyed art and made drawings in sketchbooks, painted a mural of Pink Floyd on the art room door, and drew a portrait of Abdul-Baha, who was the eldest son of the founder of the Bahai Faith.

Greene considered becoming an art major in college, but the classes interfered with baseball so he became an honor-roll student by majoring in sociology.

He excelled as a shortstop at Key West High and batted .500 with seven home runs and 45 RBI in the team’s state championship season of 1998. Disappointed by not being drafted, Greene chose Clemson over Miami for college.

Key West remains an important place for Greene, even though his family moved to Greer three years ago.

While he considered signing with the Cubs last summer, Greene lived with friends in Key West and relaxed from June through August. It was his first extended time away from baseball since he was a high school freshman.

“It helped to come back in the fall anxious and happy to play baseball,” Greene says. “I was just trying to reevaluate some things that went right and wrong last year and try to come in with a clean slate.”

 
OPENING UP

There are rules, and there are rules that must always be applied.

The Greene family practices the Bahai Faith, the youngest of the world’s independent religions, which believes other religions represent a successive stage in the spiritual development of civilization. At the heart of the belief is the conviction that humanity is a single people with a common destiny.

Among the standards set are not drinking alcohol and taking intoxicants unless under a doctor’s prescription, and, as Jim Greene quotes from memory, “dignity before God depends not on sex but purity.”

“The Bahai faith is something that’s really helped me out in leading my life a certain way,” Greene says. “I lead my life as you would want someone to see you so they say, ‘He’s a Bahai,’ and that’s a positive thing.”

Greene was like a “fish out of water” when he arrived at Clemson, says Kyle Frank, a team captain and his roommate as a freshman. “I think he’s the type of guy that doesn’t really feel comfortable or confident until he establishes himself with baseball.”

No one could quite figure out the player with the flowing blond hair who barely uttered a word. All they knew was he could hit. And no one could argue with a .358 batting average and 69 RBI from a freshman.

As a sophomore, Greene was voted the Tigers’ most valuable player by his teammates and hated the idea of accepting the award before 80,000 fans at a football game. He reluctantly went and disappeared after the presentation.

“It was an ordeal just to get him to come,” Leggett says. “Now he comes to the games and sits with you and laughs with you and helps you out with recruiting.”

Greene is known for his quick wit with one-liners that cause teammates and coaches to burst out laughing. Associate athletics director Bill D’Andrea arrived at practice once riding a motorcycle and offered a ride to Greene, who replied in his monotone voice without missing a beat, “I’ll drive and you be in the sidecar.”

Then there are the outfits, which Leggett can only describe as “unbelievable,” that he shocks his teammates with on plane trips. Greene has been known to wear white leisure suits, snakeskin cowboy boots and fur coats.

“I’m not going to be embarrassed to wear it,” he says. “If I think it looks good, I’ll put it on.”

Greene doesn’t have an active social life and really doesn’t mind. He hasn’t had a girlfriend at Clemson — “Maybe when I’m in the big leagues I’ll have one” — and doesn’t know how he would meet one since he doesn’t hit the night scene often.

“I don’t need to have a big group of people,” he says. “If I’m by myself, I’m pleased with that. I definitely don’t have a problem being alone.”

Gradually, players and coaches have noticed Greene opening himself up more.

He talks professional wrestling with Zane Green. He raps with Tyler Lumsden. He socializes with the younger players.

“Khalil’s a real asset to the team now that he’s opened up because people look up to him more,” Frank says. “This year he’s come out with the team a little more, like to team parties. It’s nice to see him out because we can’t win this thing in Omaha unless we’ve got everybody. Now he comes out and we feel complete. He’s a big part of the team on the field, and we’d like to have him with us off the field, too.”

Greene reluctantly deals with the media requests. He methodically collects new records and honors. And he continues to produce game after game with the baseball draft and the college postseason scheduled to intersect June 4.

“Tip your cap, KG,” Leggett reminded the player who has “quietly” started 261 of 262 games at Clemson and has never missed a game.

“I want to be remembered for being consistent more than anything else,” Greene says after pausing to consider his legacy. “For me, that means a lot more than the records do. There are a lot of guys that probably could have played that much. But they might not have put up the numbers to stay there.”


©Copyright 2002, Anderson Independent-Mail

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