Hunter Greene, the Reds’ No. 1 draft pick last year, will begin the 2018 season with the Class A minor-league Dayton Dragons.
Photo: MARC PENDLETON / STAFF
Photo: MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

Archdeacon: Reds phenom Greene has all the tools, and plenty of heart, too

Team’s first-round pick in 2017 draft will begin 2018 season in Dayton

And how could you not be interested in Hunter Greene?

He’s a 6-foot-3, 195-pound phenom who, though just 18, has been described in storybook fashion.

He can hit a baseball 450 feet and already has launched balls out of — not just over the fence, but out on the street — Wrigley Field in Chicago and Petco Park in San Diego.

His fastball has been clocked at 102 miles per hour.

And when he plays shortstop, he covers ground on the far end of second base as well on his side of the field.

UCLA and USC offered him scholarships when he was 14.

Last April — when he was a senior at Notre Dame High School in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles — he became just the 13th high school player ever to make the cover of Sports Illustrated. And few of the predecessors were more hyped.

“Baseball’s LeBron or the New Babe?” the SI headline asked. “Is he the star baseball needs?”

The Cincinnati Reds certainly think he is.

Plucking him out of Notre Dame — where he had an 0.75 earned run average as a pitcher his senior year and a .324 career batting average as a shortstop — the Reds made him one of their highest draft picks ever, choosing him as No. 2 overall player selected in last June’s draft. Twice before in club history the team has also had a No. 2 pick.

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They gave Greene a $7.23 million signing bonus, the largest given a draftee of any big league club since 2011.

Assigned to the Reds rookie league team in Billings last summer, Greene made three pitching appearances and was 7 for 30 (.233) at the plate as a designated hitter.

Monday, he’ll start on the mound for the Dayton Dragons against Lake County at Fifth Third Field.

But if the Dayton relatives really want to know what their blood is like, they need to look beyond his bat, his arm and his glove.

They need to focus on his heart.

That’s the true measure of a man and, with Hunter Greene, that’s where the storybook turns into the good book.

By his sister’s side

In 2010 – when Hunter was 10 and his little sister Libriti was 5 – he took her to a Kings hockey game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. That’s when he noticed the bruising on her arms.

He told his parents — Russell and Senta Greene — and a day later Libriti was taken to the doctor, where a blood test delivered the numbing news:

Leukemia.

She spent much of the next two years in the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Hollywood. There were surgeries, chemo sessions, bone marrow transplants and ever-changing medicines.

Hunter Greene, the Reds’ No. 1 draft pick last year, will begin the 2018 season with the Class A minor-league Dayton Dragons. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF
Photo: Columnist

Through it all, Hunter — still a kid himself — stayed by his sister’s side.

As Lee Jenkins noted in his SI piece, Hunter slept in the room, sometimes on the floor, sometimes across two chairs. When his sister was feeling bad, he’d crawl into bed with her and they’d watch TV side by side, play games and sometimes just talk.

He did his homework there, dressed for ballgames there and never thought twice about what he was doing.

“I needed to be there for her, I needed to support her,” he said Tuesday afternoon as he sat in a private spot in the hallway outside the Dragons clubhouse. “It was just natural. I love her and love to see her do well.

“The cancer has gone away now and she’s doing well. She’s 12 and getting straight As. I pray to God it doesn’t come back, but I know sometime it could. That’s life and it’s how that disease can be. Through it all I’ve learned not to take things for-granted.”

Many of his life lessons have been taught to him by his parents.

His mom is an educational consultant who has long stressed the importance of school to him. In part that showed when he got a 31 on his ACT test.

His dad is a well-known Los Angeles private investigator.

He worked for famed lawyer Johnnie Cochran for nearly two decades and then launched his own business which now has a list of celebrity clients from the Kardashians and Kanye West to Justin Bieber and Reggie Bush.

He’s handled everything from paparazzi and obsessive fans to people who want to extort, threaten or do bodily harm to his clients.

NBC and CBS have asked him to headline reality shows featuring his work. He has turned down those offers, but has used much of the reality he’s seen to mentor his son.

“He works with a lot of high-end clients who are in the limelight and under the microscope,” Hunter said. “He’s told me some of the stories and makes sure that I understand my surroundings and don’t put myself into some of those situations.

“Basically it’s about knowing how to behave in public. How to handle myself in situations and not make a fool of myself.”

Russell Greene has made sure there’s some practice with his preaching.

And that brings up a another story of heart.

In December of 2016 Hunter said he “collaborated” with his dad to help out folks on Skid Row. They went out and collected 2,300 pairs of socks and handed them out to people in need.

“It was Christmas time and it was very cold out and their feet were cold,” Hunter said. “This was to keep them from getting sick and a lot of them were very thankful for that.”

‘So many things … are bigger than me’

In 1975, African Americans made up 18.5 percent of the Major League rosters. In 2016 that number had fallen to 7 percent and there’s no sign of a real uptick now.

It’s that dilemma that SI was eluding to in its question about Greene:

“Is he the star baseball needs?”

Although a young African American player, he seems to understand the situation.

When he was 6, he started wearing No. 42 to honor Jackie Robinson. Two years later his parents were driving him from their home in Stevenson Ranch, California to Compton so he could take part in Major League Baseball’s Urban Youth Academy.

As a 13-year-old, he won an essay contest and got to meet Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon.

And just last year he met with 91-year-old Don Newcombe, the pitching legend with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians of the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960.

Hunter Greene meets Hall of Famer Don Newcombe during batting practice before the game last spring in Los Angeles. GETTY IMAGES
Photo: Staff Writer

Newcombe, who had begun his career in the Negro Leagues, was the first black pitcher to ever start a World Series game and the first pitcher of any color to win MLB’s Rookie of the Year, the MVP award and the Cy Young Award. After retiring he rejoined the Dodgers in the late 1970s and served as the team’s Director of Community Affairs and now is a special advisor to the chairman of the team.

“I live close to Dodger Stadium and he’s there every game so I figured I should come over meet him and say ‘What’s up?’” Greene said.

“I got to talk to him a whole night at a game. We talked about everything from pitch grips to the stories he had of playing with Jackie. They were amazing stories you hardly hear any more. It was just a wonderful time. He’s a wonderful man.”

As for carrying a banner like Newcombe once did, Greene looks at it realistically:

“A lot of people say I could change the numbers in baseball for African Americans. That’s a big burden. I’m not in the (big leagues) yet.

“What I can do is keep working with the youth like I do at camps back home. It’s important for them to see someone like myself have a passion for the game and continue to push myself to get better and better.”

And that betterment happens off the field as well as on it.

As he has said in past interviews: “I don’t want to be considered a dumb jock.”

He won’t be. His varied interests have included everything from playing the violin to learning Korean.

Since he signed his big contract, he moved to Las Vegas – better for taxes he said – and has made just two notable purchases: a Mercedes for his mom and one for him.

“I’m pretty smart with my money,” he said. “I realize baseball is just short term….And I know there’s more to life out there.”

Many of those lessons were first developed when he was at his sister’s side as she went through her initial cancer ordeal.

“I realized then there are so many things like that that are bigger than me,” he said.

And so he’d crawl into bed with her when she was ailing or afraid and he’d spend an evening listening to Don Newcombe and he’d tromp around Skid Row at Christmas handing out socks.

Baseball is fleeting.

A good heart is not.

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