There is an old adage that one cannot play baseball without a smile.
Zach Green agrees, but the Sacramento River Cats corner infielder has also endured myriad emotions, aches, pains and misery from this game.
He has lived the American boyhood dream, wielding a big bat and reaching stardom as a Little League player in the region, then at Jesuit High School. Green was overjoyed at being a third-round draft pick in 2012 with the Philadelphia Phillies, and then signing a contract to play a kid’s game.
Green has also grimaced plenty.
He has undergone surgeries on his wrist, elbow and hip, each costing him countless games and untold momentum. So the sport can be as painful as it can be pleasurable, and it can make a 21-year-old feel a great deal older.
“Mostly, the game has treated me well,” said Green, now 25. “I had a lot of injuries there for a while, and then when I was finally healthy and was given every chance to show that I could play, I did.”
The worst injury was fixing a hip ailment in late 2016. His back hurt, his legs, too, all tied to that hip and overcompensating. It was painful getting up in the morning, or climbing out of a car. Normal tasks became a challenge and a chore.
“It was some weird stuff, painful,” Green said. “Here I was 20, 21 years old, and I couldn’t move. I thought, ‘What’s going on?’ There were times I’d text the manager (of the team) and tell him I’d be a complete liability out there today.
“It took months to completely get back. I’m back, and I’m feeling great.”
Green has looked the part of a healthy prospect at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, one eager for his first call-up to the big leagues. He had two home runs in a 10-3 win over Tacoma at Raley Field on Sunday. He’s batting .389 entering Tuesday’s game in Las Vegas.
Green was hitting .500 after four games, then was reminded of the stark reality of the game, striking out three times Monday in an 11-10 win, 10-inning over Tacoma that gave Sacramento a 4-1 record after the season-opening series.
But Green isn’t complaining. Strikeouts are as much a part of this game as home runs.
“You strive to be perfect, but you never are in this sport,” Green said. “It’s a simple game, but it’s a hard game.”
First-year River Cats manager Dave Brundage has history with Green from their time in the Phillies organization. Brundage and many baseball people understand that, when healthy, Green can boost an offense. He has clubbed 66 home runs and driven in 281 runs in 503 minor-league games.
Green elected for free agency in November and was signed by the Giants in January.
“Zach was a big signing for San Francisco,” Brundage said. “I like how athletic he is, his size, his versatility in being able to play first or third. Now it’s refining things. His bat will do the talking. He has tremendous power.
“He’s figuring out who he is. He still doesn’t know who he is offensively. I just know there’s a lot of people in the organization that like him.”
Green is ecstatic to play at Raley Field, a venue he grew up admiring. He attended River Cats games as a lad, and he played there twice while at Jesuit. His parents, Kim and Jesse, are now regulars at River Cats games, eyes set on No. 12, as are scores of friends and former youth and high school coaches.
“My parents, they’re in heaven with me playing here,” Green said with a laugh. “It’s great being home. This is where I’m from. Little things count, like food, and what time traffic hits.”
Patience is another part of this game, and that’s not always easy for the uber-competitive.
“This game doesn’t owe you anything,” Green said of the baseball business in general. “It’s so hard to break through (to the big leagues). I’ve never been up there. A lot of guys in this clubhouse have been. It’s a big year for a lot of us. We’re all here to show what we can do. It’s important not to lose site of that.
“Having fun is the key. Focus on things you can control, and the game is more fun.”