SPORTS & MENTAL HEALTH: FIRST KHALIL, NOW SIMONE

By Ralph Morrow

With anxiety, mental anguish and stress being the bywords for the Tokyo Olympics, and particularly Simone Biles, I was curious how far down the age levels the malady went. So I talked to the coach who has had unbridled Key West success: Ralph Henriquez Jr. In the mid-1990s, his Key West High School baseball teams won 44 straight games over two seasons and were ranked No. 1 in the country. Any problems with stress among his prep players? “Absolutely not,” said the coach, although he admits, “It’s a different world today. But back when we were winning those games and were No. 1, our kids loved it. They came to play baseball.” 

So that was settled. No stress playing for the Conchs. 

Uh, Coach. Let’s talk about baseball player Khalil Greene, who many in Key West consider to be the best to have played here. “I won’t say he was the best,” said Henriquez. “I don’t want to embarrass anyone. But, he’s certainly among the best.” 

Greene, whose family moved to Key West from Pennsylvania when Khalil was 5, played junior varsity ball as a freshman and even started his sophomore season on the JV squad, but Henriquez soon brought him up to the varsity and put him in at shortstop. “He was there to stay,” said his coach. Greene started at shortstop the rest of his sophomore year when the Conchs won the state championship, his junior year and another championship year his senior season in 1998 when he batted .500 with Brooks Carey as his coach. 

Greene went on to play four years at Clemson University and was named the best player in the country in 2002, his senior year. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and was the No. 13 draft pick by the San Diego Padres. 

Greene moved up quickly in the minors and was with the Padres as their starting shortstop from Sept. 3, 2003, until he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. 

In 2008, his “mental anguish,” described at length in various news reports, may have begun after he signed a two-year, $11 million contract extension. He started that season with hitting difficulties and when he struck out on July 30 with his batting average at .213, Greene went back to the dugout and slammed his fist into a wall. The result? A broken hand. 

He missed the rest of the season. The next year in 2009 he admitted publicly he was resorting to “self-abuse” and cutting himself in “mental anguish,” according to bleacherreport.com. Greene took time off in May and June. On June 29, he was placed on the disabled list with social anxiety disorder. He rarely played the rest of that year.

Greene was gone from St. Louis at the end of that season and signed a free agent contract with the Texas Rangers for 2010. But he never reported, saying on Feb. 22 that he was suffering another episode of social anxiety disorder.

His baseball career was over. Greene, his wife and two sons reportedly live in South Carolina. A St. Louis writer, Rob Reins, went to the town he apparently lived in two years ago, but did not find the Greenes, nor his parents, who also are believed to live there. 

So, Coach Henriquez, what was Khalil Greene like as your star shortstop in Key West?

 “Very, very quiet,” said Henriquez. “He didn’t say much, just played very hard. You’ve heard of players who lead by example by the way they play? Khalil was one of those.” 

Greene may have been among the first athletes to have a mental disorder publicly, but Simone Biles is neither the next nor the last. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love has been quite open about his own anxieties. I saw an interview over the weekend with NBA star DeMar DeRozan in which he talked about his own vulnerabilities. 

I imagine we’ll hear more and more.

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Veteran sports columnist Ralph Morrow says the only sport he doesn’t follow is cricket. That leaves plenty of others to fill his time.