Wednesday, June 20, 2007

From Wonder to Wonder -- Interview with Khalil Greene


From Wonder to Wonder

Khalil Greene is the everyday shortstop of the San Diego Padres of the National League, having been runner-up for the Rookie of the Year Honors in 2005. I had a conversation with him in the dugout of Wrigley Field in Chicago, on a warm Father’s Day Sunday, June 17, 2007, before a game with the Cubs. The field was being prepared by the grounds crew, and the players were about stretching, tossing balls around getting ready for batting practice. We talked a little about baseball at first, the auras of various stadiums, the grind of the schedules, the bench-clearing brawl of the day before.
Khalil has a certain reputation for being reticent and laconic, but I found this serious, babyfaced young man quietly genial, and almost thirsty to be speaking about the Bahá’í Faith.

Geza: Thanks for taking the time to talk today. I know interviews are one of the more onerous duties of being a professional athlete.

Kahlil: Can be. It varies according to how well you’re playing, but right now I don’t do so many.

Geza: Is it like in the movie Bull Durham, where they teach you to give all these pat answers to all the inane and repetitive questions you get?

Khalil: Yes, those are not very interesting.

Geza: And that’s why they told me I have a maximum of ten minutes, so as not to burden you with the same old rigmarole?

Khalil: I suppose so. You get into a routine, and you want to be done with those as quickly as possible.

Géza: I’ve read that the Bahá’í Faith has helped your baseball career. Can you elaborate on that?

Khalil: A certain lifestyle is assumed for a ballplayer . . .

Géza: You mean drinking and womanizing.

Khalil: Yes. Reading the Writings everyday keeps me strong in my identity, focusing my values and identity in the face of pressure to be out enjoying the night life. It reminds me who I am and what my real values in life are.

Géza: Given the demands of your career, do you get to participate in any Bahá’í community life?

Khalil: No, and that is one of my frustrations. The Faith for me is one of my personal relationship with God and with Bahá’u’lláh. In the off-season I do get to spend a little time with my parents in South Carolina; it’s a small Bahá’í community there, but there’re very strong in the Faith and it’s very confirming for me.

Géza: You must know you have an automatic fan base wherever you go that may not be huge in numbers, but is far-reaching.

Khalil: That’s for sure. When we go to Houston or Dallas especially, the Bahá’ís buy up a bunch of seats, and are waving signs, it feels like family. We played an interleague series with Seattle, and dozens came up from Portland to support me. Then I feel like I’m a part of a big network.

Géza: Do you get to visit the House of Worship when you come to Chicago?

Khalil: Actually, I’ve been only once, when a friend had a car. Usually, we get to come to Chicago only once a year, and it’s in April, and it’s always been cold. So this is the first time we’ve come for the second time the same year.

Géza: How long do you have after today’s game before the plane leaves?

Khalil: (Sighs) Only about an hour.

Géza: The tourist bureau of the State of Illinois recently ran an online contest, dividing up the state onto seven areas, and people voted for the wonder in each area. Wrigley Field won for the city of Chicago, while the House of Worship won over the Frank Lloyd Wright Museum in the suburban area. I’m sure the organizers wouldn’t have imagined that the Bahá’ís from all over the world would be voting. Then the local ABC station continued the contest for the favorite Wonder of Illinois, and last time I looked, the House of Worship had a whopping lead over Wrigley Field for the same reason.

Khalil: Ha ha, that’s great.

Géza: Do you pray during games?

Khalil: As a matter of fact I do.

Géza: You don’t pray for God to help you and not the other team?

Khalil: (Chuckles) No, nothing like that. Praying keeps me balanced and focused, especially at times when I’m not feeling quite right physically or mentally.

Géza: Ballplayers tend to be a superstitious lot. Just while I was waiting for you, I heard someone in the clubhouse talking about all the games you won when you didn’t stretch before, and that when you stretched, you lost.

Khalil: Yeah, but it’s mostly tongue-in-cheek.

Geza: Are you sure? Deep down don’t you think they actually believe in the supernatural at play?

Khalil: Yeah, I guess they’ll latch on to anything that gives them some hope.

Géza: Have you always been known as Khalil, or did they used to call you Kay?

Khalil: It’s always been Khalil. I went through a period of discomfort with my name, wanting to fit in as a kid, but once I made peace with it, when people would ask me, it was an instant opportunity to teach the Faith, so my name’s been a great blessing to me.

Géza: Do interviewers ask you strange questions about the Faith?

Khalil: No, they’re generally not intrigued about the Faith itself; I got a lot more questions the first year, as an occupational “getting to know you” kind of thing rather than any real interest in the Faith itself.

Geza: You’ve got to get to batting practice! Thanks again for your time.

Kahlil: Great to meet you too. It was a good talk.

On my way out, I thanked Leah Tobin, the media rep who set up the interview and who had been watching like a hawk in case Khalil gave her the signal to give me the hook; the look on her face said to me, “What’ was so interesting you guys were talking about that he gave you so much of his time?”
I had entered the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field to interview a major league ballplayer who is a Bahá’í, but I left as a fan of that impressive young man.

3 comments:

Barb said...

Geza,

That was a wonderful interview! It was nice to get some insights on Khalil. We are BIG Cub fans in this family, and being able to cheer for Khalil, even though he is on the opposing team is not in the usual realm of sporting activities.

I'm going to forward your interview with Khalil to our children, who are, as you know from here to Chile.

This is a cool thing that you are doing =)

Barb

Eriko said...

Hi Geza! What an amazing chat, taking place in the holy shrine of baseball. I have to show it to my parents who are Padre fans - I grew up being crazy about them, too! And of course I've told Mom & Dad about Khalil being Baha'i. I think they will watch him on TV now and wonder if he is praying just then! (My parents are Catholic & nonchalant about my Baha'i faith....) I feel bad for Khalil that he can't come up to the House of Worship very much. He needs to take a cab up one time to pray in the gardens after an early game while the other fellows are out hitting the town. - Eriko

dianne said...

Hi Geza,

I took my father to the game that day! Although it was disappointing for the Cubs (I kept reciting Hidden Words in my head to help me to be detached from the score!), I was glad to see Khalil on the field. Also, I was able to tell Isis that he is Baha'i which I'm hoping helps her to see that the faith isn't so obscure.

I enjoyed reading your interview. Maybe next time the Padres are in town, a bunch of us can buy up a lot of seats as well!

Dianne