KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) _ Even after all these years, Greg Maddux can't get enough of the game.
Sometimes, when he's driving around town, he'll spot a ballpark, pull over the car, slip behind the outfield fence and take in a few innings.
``Sure. If I don't have anything else to do, I'll stop and watch,'' Maddux said. ``Twelve-year-olds, high school _ it doesn't matter. They don't even know I'm there.''
That passion has driven Maddux to a level of consistent excellence nearly unmatched in the history of the game.
For 15 years running, he's won at least 15 games. Only Cy Young accomplished that feat, and they named an award after him.
Maddux, who will be 37 in April, has been pitching so well for so long that everyone takes him for granted. Last season, he went 16-6 with a 2.62 ERA _ second-best in the National League _ and it was considered an off-year.
Just listen to Barry Bonds, who was talking the other day about some of the game's best pitchers. He mentioned Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens, then Maddux popped in his head.
``I always skip Maddux, but Maddux is one of the best pitchers ever. Ever,'' Bonds said. ``His record is phenomenal, but everyone seems to overlook him because he's such a finesse guy. Fifteen wins in 15 seasons, tell me who's done that.''
Young is the only other pitcher to reach such a level of consistency. He did it from 1891-1905, when the ball was dead and it wasn't a big deal to start 45 games a year _ and finish most of them.
In an era of home runs and middle relievers, Maddux has a chance to break Young's mark this season, having re-signed with the Atlanta Braves for $14.75 million _ the largest one-year contract in baseball history.
As always, Maddux shrugs off any talk of individual accomplishments.
``I'm afraid to do it,'' he said. ``I don't want to lose my edge. I don't want to relax. I don't want to be a guy who's been there, done that. You don't have a need to work hard when you feel good about what you've accomplished.''
Maddux has no complaints about the way he pitched last season, ``Actually, I thought it was one of my better years,'' he said.
Still, in many respects, it wasn't a typical Maddux year. For the first time as a pro, he didn't throw a complete game. For the first time since his rookie year with the Chicago Cubs in 1987, he failed to pitch 200 innings.
Maddux was bothered by all sorts of ailments. His back hurt. His calf was sore. His neck ached. His side throbbed. He even went on the disabled list for the first time in his 17-year career.
All those ailments essentially turned Maddux into a six-inning pitcher. They also raised doubts about whether a guy who loves to play golf was doing much else to keep himself in peak physical condition.
Maddux scoffs at the notion that he's a bit lax in the exercise department.
``Anybody who thinks you can play this game for the number of years I have and not do the things you need to do to stay in shape, well, it's obvious they never played the game,'' he said.
Manager Bobby Cox has no complaints about the way Maddux goes about his business.
``He does what it takes to win,'' Cox said. ``That's what you shoot for, and he figured that out many years ago.''
If anything, Maddux's athleticism makes him susceptible to injuries, Cox said. The right-hander has won 13 straight Gold Glove awards, an NL record for pitchers and only three short of the overall record held by Jim Kaat.
The Braves believe Maddux hurt his back during an exhibition game last spring while making an acrobatic fielding play.
``Because he's such a great athlete, he hurt his back on some crazy, great play,'' Cox said. ``That's what he gets for being such a great athlete. He's amazing, as tough as they come.''
Maddux also wants to clear up another misconception: Yes, a lot of teams were interested in him when he became a free agent, but he didn't pursue those offers because he wanted to spend another year with the Braves.
He accepted Atlanta's arbitration offer, binding him to the team for another season. In the meantime, former teammate Tom Glavine, who's the same age and similarly qualified, left the Braves to take a three-year deal from the New York Mets.
``I wanted to come back to Atlanta,'' Maddux said. ``I didn't think it was very ethical to pursue other teams when I wasn't going to go there. Believe me, there was plenty of interest out there, but I didn't think that belonged in the paper.''
Clearly, he's content with the Braves and loves playing for Cox. Still, the time is fast approaching when Maddux will have to make some quality-of-life decisions.
His 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son are forced to split their schooling between Atlanta and Las Vegas, where Maddux grew up and still lives during the offseason. There's been speculation that he might want to finish his career with a team on the West Coast so he doesn't have to move his family each year.
``It's getting harder and harder for my kids to go to two schools,'' Maddux conceded. ``As you get older, you play for different reasons.''
He certainly doesn't want to leave the game _ he's having too much fun.
``I enjoy the people, I enjoy the life, I enjoy the money,'' Maddux said. ``I enjoy going to ballparks. I'll just stop and enjoy the game.''