Greene a shortstop of a different color

The essence of Khalil Greene

The impression can be made in an instant on the infield dirt, in a half-hour conversation or over a 162-game season.

The inevitable conclusion: Khalil Thabit Greene is, in many ways, unlike any baseball player you've seen before.

Certainly, Greene embodies qualities every player seeks and many possess -- talent, work ethic, consistency. Yet everything from his cool stoicism on and off the field to his cropped blond mop of hair sends off an undeniable uniqueness.

If Greene comes across as different, he certainly doesn't mind it.

"I consider myself to be an individual," he says, "so I don't really pattern myself after anybody or look at anybody else as a blueprint for what I need to do."

Indeed, the true essence of Greene exists in a much deeper and quieter way than the highlight reel he bestowed on the baseball world with his outstanding rookie season in 2004 with the Padres.

On the field, he is a true modern-era shortstop with a powerful build who can make the impossible play look so smooth, then trot to the dugout like nothing happened and deliver with his bat.

Away from his work environment, however, baseball brushes off him like clay from his jersey.

"I think you have to have everything in perspective and realize what you're doing and the overall importance of it in the grand scheme of everything in general," Greene said in a recent extended interview. "I understand what I do. I enjoy the job that I do, and I love baseball. But there are other things that interest me as well.

"When I'm off the field, the stuff that I do on the field is kind of put aside. It's there when I'm doing it, but I don't really thrive off any type of success or get brought down by any sense of failure."

It's about balance, and Greene demonstrates an uncanny cache of it, especially for a 25-year-old not three years removed from studying sociology at Clemson, nor that far from his formative years in Key West, Fla.

Raised with the principles of the Baha'i Faith, Greene is contemplative and demure. In a time when celebrations sometimes get as much notice as performance, he's deadpanned and respectful even after the most amazing play in the field. In a clubhouse environment where sometimes the loudest rule, he is quiet and meditative.

Don't look for Greene to be wearing the "Baseball is Life" T-shirt anytime soon, either.

"If you look at society in general and look at baseball and where it is on a global scale and its overall importance to everything, I think that helps me deal with things a little bit more," Greene says. "I'm totally devoted to what's going on and everybody around here and the goal of winning, but I understand that it's not the end all, be all of my existence. I know I have a lot of other things to give."

No, this isn't your normal clubhouse chit-chat.

But this isn't your normal player, and that is something his more seasoned teammates have come to admire.

First impression
Padres second baseman Mark Loretta is Greene's double-play partner, a veteran of a decade in the Majors. He's never seen anyone quite like Greene.

"I've tried to describe him a lot of different ways, but he's just kind of a really unaffected, unassuming, well-adjusted, mature person for his age," Loretta said. "You don't particularly run across that very much in this line of work, for a number of reasons."

Says closer Trevor Hoffman, a veteran of 12 years in the big leagues: "He's unique because he's quiet. He's unique because he's confident. He's unique because he prepares. He's not like a lot of the younger guys coming up. There's a lot of young guys who handle the attention well. But he really tries to stay away from it, and he's very comfortable with that."

The big offensive numbers -- the 15 homers and 65 RBIs, the club record for extra-base hits by a shortstop -- and his stellar defense made the baseball world take notice his rookie season. Before he suffered a fractured right index finger on a bad hop Sept. 13, Greene was considered to be neck-and-neck with friend Jason Bay of the Pirates for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

   Khalil Greene  /   SS
Born: 10/21/79
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

This was the fruition, and then some, of what the Padres hoped to get out of Greene when they drafted him in the first round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.

While the aspects of performance and preparation were eye-popping, what took Loretta by surprise was how well Greene was prepared to handle life in the big leagues.

"I was impressed with the way he was able to deal with the highs and lows of the season, not getting overly caught up in the hype and not get down when things aren't going so well," Loretta said. "That usually takes a long time to develop. He seemed to have that before he arrived."

That's probably the quality that sticks out the most about Greene, and ironically it is one that baseball players seek so much it becomes cliché: He plays on an even keel, and seems to live there, too.

"There's certain opinions that people formulate based on your profession, based on what you do," Greene says. "I don't want to stereotype what it is too much, but there are certain reactions people might expect from someone being successful: If you don't do well you're mad, and if you do well you're extremely happy. I guess when people don't see those two predictable reactions, the ones maybe they're used to seeing, I guess there's a certain curiosity toward why.

"But it's just me. That's how I've always been like. That's not to say that I don't enjoy the success that I have or that I'm not happy when I do well. It's just something I keep in check somewhat and understand the next day you've got another game to play."

Baha'i background
Keeping things in perspective certainly isn't a new concept to Greene, whose upbringing was about the bigger picture of the world, certainly not just about baseball.

Born in Pennsylvania before his family moved to Key West, Greene was raised as one of the approximately 5 million members of the Baha'i Faith. Only an estimated 150,000 live in the U.S. with about half living in India. It's an independent religion established in the 19th century that, according to its web site, holds that "humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification in one global society."

Jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and actress Carole Lombard were Baha'is, and now Greene is becoming one of the most famous Baha'is of his era through his success on the diamond.

Greene's parents -- James, a woodworker, and Janet, an elementary school teacher -- named him Khalil Thabit, which means Steadfast Friend of God. He embodies his name in the way he lives his life, which includes daily prayer and readings.

"It's not something that you kind of forget about when you're not reading or you're not in that environment," Greene says. "It's something that's applicable to everything in life."

While there is an individuality to every player, Greene finds a place for the oneness of a baseball team within the context of his Baha'i beliefs.

"You've got a lot of people that come from so many different backgrounds and there's so many different personalities," Greene said. "You've got dominant personalities and extreme introverts, and guys who don't speak any English. It's a meshing of a lot of people. When you come on the field, there is a unity and a common goal, and that's to win the game."

He's not alone in this aspect, but Greene's faith is clearly a big part of what keeps him grounded.

"I can only speak for myself, but I could see where you can get extremely caught up in what you're doing and become wholly enveloped with what you do on the field and with the highs baseball can give you and athletics in general," he says. "With the success and all the people and everybody saying how great you are and this and that, if you get caught up in that you can kind of lose touch with reality, in a sense."

Making his mark
Greene got his first Major League lesson in maintaining that balance early, with the hoopla surrounding his candidacy for Rookie of the Year.

"He's kind of a throwback. He's one of those guys who doesn't want the attention. He just wants to be a contributor."
-- Padres GM Kevin Towers, on Khalil Greene

"I just never felt it was something I was necessarily needed either way," says Greene, who finished second in the voting behind Bay. "I felt like if I had a good season and was productive, that's all I cared about doing. Whatever came of it after that would be whatever came of it.

"It's the same way it is now. It's over, and there's no other awards given out for your second, third or fourth year. Now you're in the same boat as everyone else."

In reality, he is. He might approach things a little differently than others, but he's just another guy in the Padres clubhouse now.

"You know what? He's a baseball player," Padres GM Kevin Towers says. "He's kind of a throwback. He's one of those guys who doesn't want the attention. He just wants to be a contributor."

But with success comes curiosity, as Greene is finding. Whether it's about his faith, his hair, his workout regimen, his baseball influences, his thoughts about his place in the game, people want to know what makes him tick.

"I think he understands that because of his early success he's probably one of the most popular players we have in San Diego, if not the most," Towers says. "But I think he's always going to keep that privacy. I think that's part of what keeps him so balanced. He's a man of few words -- maybe I need to take some lessons from him."

The irony is that as quiet as he can be, Greene also can be engaging and well-spoken in a conversation about things deeper than the hit-and-run, about his place in the world as opposed to his place in the Padres' lineup.

There is no questioning whether any success he has achieved has changed him, or whether it will in the future.

"I keep my ego in check through accounting for what I do," Greene says. "It's easier in baseball because you're tested every day."

There is also no questioning his desire to be the best player he can become, and his workmanlike approach to his job is key evidence.

"I want to be a great player, and I want to be successful," he says. "But being looked at as a great player isn't necessarily my concern. Ultimately, I just want to get to the point where I'm performing my best. If I can do that, then however you're remembered is irrelevant."

In the meantime, don't expect any back flips or juicy quotes for the other team's bulletin board from Greene.

He's learning to accept the accolades and everything that comes with blossoming stardom in baseball, but in his own, unique way.

"I respect all the people who watch the game, and I appreciate the fact that people cheer for you and hold you in high esteem. I realize that's just an aspect that comes from the game," Greene says. "There are good things that come from that, but I don't let it change who I am.

"I know who I am and I'm fairly confident in my person, so I don't deviate from that too much."

John Schlegel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.