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October 31, 2014

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Hall of a career

Greg Maddux had not been with the Chicago Cubs long when he was sent to the minor leagues to work on his mechanics and mental approach. Pitching coach Dick Pole jolted him with a simple question.

What do you want out of this game?

"I want to win 20 games, I want a World Series ring," Maddux said, "and I want to make a million dollars."

This weekend, his impressive career will land him in the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame. In two weeks, Maddux is scheduled for an arbitration hearing with Atlanta Braves officials in St. Petersburg, Fla.

If he loses, he will get $13.5 million to pitch this season. If agent Scott Boras presents a convincing case, Maddux will be rewarded with a $16 million contract that will set a record for a pitcher. A verdict will be rendered a day after the Feb. 20 hearing.

Working a chaw of tobacco in the comfortable office of his luxurious home in an ultra-exclusive section of Spanish Trail, where he lives with his wife, Kathy, and their two kids, Maddux laughed at how he low-balled that monetary figure years ago.

He has grossed approximately $95 million in his career.

"It is mind-boggling," Maddux said. "What I wanted to do is, I wanted to stay in Atlanta, and they made it clear they wanted me back on the team. I wanted to play there, so I took arbitration. It's there for the players and owners, and both sides have made out well because of it.

"It's a little too public for me, but it is what it is. It's why we all have agents. We get stuck in the middle, trying to answer questions about it and sounding like idiots trying to do it. No matter how you say it, in the end it comes out, 'You're underworked and overpaid.' You're right.

"So be it."

Maddux, 36, is very private and quiet. Two sets of gates must be bypassed before visitors can park on the street in front of his Spanish Trail sanctuary.

Older brother Mike, who will be inducted into the Southern Nevada Hall of Fame alongside Greg, is impressed with how his sibling has remained unassuming and unpretentious while earning fame and fortune.

Mike said that comes directly from their parents, current Summerlin residents Dave and Linda, and a modest childhood.

"There are a lot of people in different professions who will seek the limelight," said Mike Maddux. "They get way up when things are going well just to have farther to fall when things are not going well. I admire the way he has kept himself humble."

The best thing Greg Maddux ever did for himself, he said, was undergoing Lasik surgery 2 1/2 years ago. Rain now doesn't hamper his golf game. The third green of the Canyon Course, one of the three tracks at Spanish Trail Country Club, lies just beyond his backyard.

The Valley High graduate once blistered the course for a 68, but he admitted that he was hitting from the white tees. From the championship tees, his best is a 71 or 72. He has lived in the home since he started pitching for the Braves, in 1993.

In a nearby office closet, he keeps a bat that Mark McGwire once used. In an open great room upstairs, his one World Series ring -- from 1995, when Atlanta defeated Cleveland in the Fall Classic -- sits in a clear case with assorted autographed baseballs.

His 13 Gold Glove trophies are aligned on two rows of shelves.

Go ahead, he said, put one on. After getting a quizzical response, he took a glove off its perch and slipped his left hand into it. He said most people don't know that the awards are actual supple, golden gloves.

A guitar signed by the Dixie Chicks leaned against a wall. Even though Maddux is a fan of that country singing group, the item is destined for a charity auction. He prefers to keep his considerable charitable efforts on the hush.

He hasn't been so quiet on the mound.

Maddux is the game's winningest pitcher since 1991, and his string of 15 consecutive seasons with at least 15 victories has only been accomplished by Cy Young. His .642 winning percentage (273-152) is fourth all-time among pitchers with at least 400 decisions.

A Hall of a career, no doubt, and Cooperstown, N.Y., has a nook reserved for Maddux. However, he insisted that that doesn't diminish what will happen this weekend, when he gets a permanent spot in the Southern Nevada Hall of Fame.

He said Friday night's ceremony at Cox Pavilion will not dawn on him until that morning.

"When we get there, I'll start to get nervous," Maddux said. "I'm uncomfortable going to things like this. It hits you, but it's pretty cool. Vegas has always been home, and we've always kept an eye on people from Vegas, whether it's a guy playing football in the NFL or golfers."

He noted the third-place tie that Las Vegas native and resident Robert Gamez earned in the recent Phoenix Open.

"You always kind of root for the hometown guys," Maddux said. "That's why it's pretty special. To get inducted into something like this is very flattering, especially while you're still playing. Usually, you have to be done before something like this happens. That makes it even more special."

Maddux first picked up a baseball at the age of 5, when his family lived on a U.S. Air Force base in Torrejon de Ardoz, Spain, near Madrid. Mike Maddux was excelling with a Little League team that played games in Holland, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Dave Maddux was an Air Force lifer. Thus, Mike's baseball team played other squads from other bases, Army posts and Naval ports in Europe, almost winning the European Division and a spot in the Little League World Series, in Williamsport, Pa., three times.

It finished second once and third twice.

Dave also threw on a fast-pitch softball team, and his wife, two sons and daughter Terri, now the mother of two children in Las Vegas, attended all of those games. Mike remembered chasing down foul balls and turning them in for a Coke.

"If only I'd have known, I'd have held out for two Cokes," Mike said. "But it was a lot of fun. Who'd have thought we'd be traveling around like that?"

Greg Maddux was born in Texas, then the family moved to Riverside, Calif., before spending four years in Spain. It settled in Las Vegas in 1976.

His first inkling that he might prosper in baseball came after his junior year at Valley, when Mike Grier, another pitcher, got drafted in the fifth round. At that time, Grier's stuff was better than Maddux's.

"But not by much," said Maddux, who believed he at least had a shot at a Division I scholarship if Grier could get noticed by a major league team. Maddux then got nabbed by the Cubs in the second round of the 1984 draft.

His second revelation arrived in his second pro season. He had spent time in an instructional league with Johnny Abrego and Jay Baller. In 1985, both pitched for the Cubs.

"Those guys were good, but I could do the same things with a baseball that they could," Maddux said. "It gives you optimism."

Abrego played only that one season in the majors, going 1-1 in starting five of six games. Baller went 4-9 over a spotty six-year career with three teams.

Maddux was a combined 8-18 in his first two seasons with the Cubs, and Pole coaxed him to concentrate on throwing good pitches, instead of retiring each batter and trying to notch victories.

Maddux responded with an 18-8 season in 1988, and he hasn't stopped chasing Cy Young.

"You know, I've just been fortunate," Maddux said. "I've been healthy. I think that's the main thing. I've enjoyed doing it and I've been able to be healthy. Those two things go a long way."

Last season, a calf injury proved minor. Inflammation between the fifth lumbar and first sacral vertebrae of his spine, however, placed him on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

A couple of well-placed cortisone shots and 10 days of rest returned Maddux to the mound.

"Doctors said I could have done it getting out of bed, getting out of the car or running to first," Maddux said. "It hasn't come back."

Some speculated in the offseason that Maddux might not return to Atlanta, where his contract had expired. Would he join Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in Arizona, forming a super rotation and keeping him close to home?

There was no talk with any club in the West, according to Maddux. A few East Coast teams showed interest, but accepting arbitration from the Braves, who paid him $13.3 million last season, was a simple decision.

Maddux doesn't like surprises, like when he thought he was surely staying in Chicago 10 years ago.

"Then I knew I was playing in New York," he said of the Yankees. "Then I ended up playing in Atlanta. This offseason, there hasn't been a whole lot of surprises. When you anticipate what will happen, and that happens, it's not a surprise."

What satisfies Greg Maddux most is that he has never gone through the motions. Along with meticulous placement, he doesn't give in. He has cherished each start and respected every batter.

"You hear about hitters who will give away at-bats. I don't try to give away any starts," he said. "Some hitters, like Chipper Jones, are good at not giving away at-bats. A couple of other guys, you see them walk up there and it's like, 'Phhht, why'd you waste your time?'

"I feel good about coming home after each season, realizing, 'You know what? I can't think of a start where I didn't show up to pitch.' I think that goes a long way."

A long way toward building a dream life by the third green of a plush golf course behind two secure gates.

"You realize how fortunate you are," Maddux said. "You ask, 'Why me?' sometimes. At the same time, you feel very proud of yourself, that you've done everything you can to take advantage of what's been in front of you. You feel pretty good about that."

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