He hates to lose, pitches with a chip on his shoulder and routinely throws cheese that registers close to 100 mph. This may sound like a similar story to dozens of Major Leaguers, but part of what makes Greg Holland's journey to the top of his profession is that very few predicted his rise to stardom. At 27 years old, the Royals reliever has evolved into an All-Star and one of the game's elite closers.
"I'm not really thinking it about it that much," he said. "I just go about my business every day. I try to prepare myself mentally and physically".
The speed in which Holland speaks does not match the velocity of his fastball. Laid-back and easygoing is the way many describe the Marion, N.C., native. But inside his compact and athletic frame burns a desire to win. At everything.
The physical part of Holland's story has many layers to it. At 5-foot-10, he's one of the smallest Major Leaguers. It doesn't seem possible that a frame so small could serve as a launching pad for a devastating fastball. What he may lack in size, Holland makes up for in the category of intestinal fortitude. He often jokes around in the bullpen with teammate and fellow reliever, 5-foot-7 Tim Collins.
"We say that we're some of the shortest guys in the big leagues but we have the two biggest hearts, Holland said. "I take the mound with something to prove every day."
That's been the case since Holland was a kid. Something to prove no matter the activity or the sport. Everything was a competition. Basketball, tree climbing, bike riding, golf. Greg, along with his dad and younger brother Chase, drove each other to succeed.
From an early age, he and his brother would watch their father play softball. Holland said he started playing baseball right around the time he learned how to walk. Competition is in his bloodlines.
"They still pound me in golf," he said. "My brother is a really good golfer. He still gives me a lot of crap about being able to hit my slider."
That would place little brother Chase in the minority because Major League hitters are hitting around .100 against Greg Holland's wipeout slider. But long before he developed that pitch in his journey through the Minors, Holland had to fight through a couple of injures while proving he deserved a chance to play.
In his junior year of high school, a broken clavicle limited his time on the field. In his senior year, Holland was hit in the face by a pickoff throw. The result was a broken jaw. He missed roughly three weeks of playing time but convinced those in charge to let him back on the field. So he played with his jaw wired shut. More playing time, yes, but his body was shrinking. He couldn't eat solid food and the weight fell off. He went down to about 150 pounds. He lost strength and his velocity suffered. So did the opportunity to lock up a spot on a college roster.
"After I graduated, I played summer ball and gained weight back and got stronger," he said. "I walked on at Western Carolina. The guys never heard of me but I came out throwing 88-90 mph. They gave me a shot to practice with them."
The rest is history.
Drafted in the 10th round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2007, Holland moved through the Royals system, refining his craft while making stops at four levels. He debuted with the big club in 2010.
Now, three years later, he describes his experience the way many observers describe Holland's stuff. Awesome. It's becoming a great national story. The Royals and many of their young stars like Mike Moustakas , Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez are competing deep into the season. This success wouldn't be possible if not for the growing pains along the way.
"There were times last year we wanted to win, now we expect to win," Holland said. "We know how to go about our business and we think we're in a good position right now."
Much of the credit for this evolution, Holland said, goes to the coaching staff, front office and veteran leadership in the clubhouse.
It's a nice mix to be certain but now the pressure is on. The Royals franchise hasn't been to the postseason in more than a quarter-century. I pointed out to Holland that he was born a few weeks after Kansas City's last playoff appearance in 1985. He marvels at that bit of trivia for a split-second. Then he got serious.
"I've always said you can make pressure a good thing or a bad thing," he said. "There's a lot of pressure for us to win but I think it's a task as a team we're ready to take on."
Pressure and competition at the highest level. Greg Holland wouldn't want it any other way.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb.