Today is 23 days, which is three weeks and two days of the omer: gevurah she’b’netzach.
It’s not because he’s an Astro — because really, it’s only been half a season, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about him. Plus, he’s #21 in Houston!
Rather, pitcher Zack Greinke (the second player profiled without a nickname — no, seriously, this year on Astros Players’ Weekend his jersey just said “Greinke”) for me has modeled a particular kind of lasting strength during his career. (He’s also the second player whom I keep wanting to be Jewish; I need to learn to distinguish between Jewish last names and German ones.)
Like a lot of pitchers, Greinke has played for many teams: the Royals, Brewers, Angels, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks before making his way to the Astros in July. He’s a six-time All-Star, six-time Golden Glove winner, two-time Silver Slugger winner, two-time ERA leader, and Cy Young award winner. Last year he was one of three active pitchers to have reached 200 wins.
An amazing pitcher, he’s also a pretty reserved guy. Before Game 3 of last year’s ALDS, he gave this hilariously laconic press conference, consisting of 67 words, nine of which were “I don’t know” three times. (He went on in that game to hurl just fewer pitches than he used words: He was pulled after 3 1/2 innings and 61 pitches.)
It doesn’t come up that often anymore, but Greinke’s terseness isn’t just reluctance to engage with the media. After being rushed to the big leagues as a 20-year-old rookie meant to be the cornerstone of the Royals’ rebuilding, Greinke had a rough start in the majors: In 2005, he led the AL in losses, finishing with a 5–17 record and a 5.80 ERA in 33 starts. In 2006, he only made three appearances out of the bullpen and finished the year 1–0 with a 4.26 ERA.
The next year Greinke returned to the team for the whole season, pitching both as a starter and in relief, and he revealed that he had been diagnosed with depression and social anxiety (his discomfort in the clubhouse had not gone unnoticed). He’d considered quitting baseball entirely. He was under the care of psychologist and taking medication. Two years later, he won the Cy Young and became one of the highest-paid athletes in the 2010s.
Greinke’s story resonates with me. (Not the being paid hundreds of millions of dollars.) In the spirit of being #OutAboutYourShit (as my friend EmFish calls it), I try to be open about my own struggles with depression and anxiety. I take medication. I see a psychologist and a psychiatrist. And I manage my mental illnesses every day in many different ways, from journaling to meditation to exercise to religious practice. It’s gotten harder lately as I’ve been isolated in my apartment. The cats help. This project has helped.
I admire Greinke for his honesty and vulnerability. It is often not easy — especially in the world of sports that often teems with toxic masculinity — to seek help.
For his triumph through strength, we count today, day 23.
featured image: Jamie Squire/Getty Images