Fresh-faced and eager, 20-year-old Greg Maddux got his promotion from the minors and pulled on a Chicago Cubs uniform for the final month of the 1986 season.
Six days after reaching the big leagues, he threw a complete game for what would be the first of many wins -- the start of a career that has flourished for nearly two decades.
Now, all these years and victories later, an older and wiser Maddux heads to the mound on Sunday at Wrigley Field to face Philadelphia with the chance to join one of baseball's most prestigious fraternities.
If he becomes the 22nd pitcher to notch 300 victories, it will be with the same cerebral style of pitching -- of changing speeds and varying locations -- that has established him as one of the game's most consistent winners. First with the Cubs, then for 11 years with the Atlanta Braves and now back again in Chicago.
With a shoulder shrug and a typical low-key approach, the 38-year-old Maddux insists he has not been counting the wins needed to reach the milestone.
"When it's all said and done, yeah, you might look back and pat yourself on the back. Right now for me personally, I would much rather win 15 games and have a chance to pitch in the postseason. That means more to me than winning 300," Maddux said.
"I know in order to do that I'll bypass that  somewhere along the way. It's hard to say it's just another game, but it is."
Roger Clemens got to 300 on his fourth try on June 13, 2003, and no NL pitcher has reached the magical number since Steve Carlton in 1983.
"You have to get to the big leagues at a young age to have a chance," Maddux said. "Obviously, you have to stay healthy. And you have to pitch good. It's easier to retire early now with the money guys make. There are a lot of reasons not to get there."
There are so many numbers that tell Maddux's story -- a major league record 16 straight seasons with at least 15 wins; four consecutive Cy Young Awards; 13 straight Gold Gloves; a career ERA less than 3.00; an NL record for most consecutive innings without a walk (721/3).
All that for a guy who did not even make his major league debut as a pitcher.
Maddux got into his first game as a pinch runner for Jody Davis in the 17th inning, then gave up a home run to Billy Hatcher in the 18th and took the loss as Houston beat the Cubs, 8-7, at Wrigley.
His first victory came at Riverfront Stadium on Sept. 7, 1986, when he gave up 11 hits in an 11-3 win over Cincinnati. Born on the day Pete Rose turned 25, Maddux got an autograph from the Reds' player-manager before beating them.
These days, Maddux doesn't have the pop on his pitches he once did. Then again, overpowering hitters has never been what he's about.
"He's just, with a capital 'P,' a professional pitcher," said Braves closer John Smoltz, who joined Maddux and Tom Glavine to form one of the greatest rotations ever.
"He sets up hitters better than anybody in the game. He's just ahead of the hitters constantly, and he's just the most well-informed, organized pitcher there is," Smoltz added.
Maddux has an encyclopedic mind for pitching built on experience and his knowledge of hitters. He's specialized in keeping batters off-balance with darting deliveries that cut corners and feast on weaknesses. And he works quickly and economically.
Even before he turned pro, Maddux began to understand what mixing up his pitches could do. His coach at Valley High School in Las Vegas, Ralph Medar, impressed upon on him that making the ball do certain things was as essential as blowing it by the hitter.
"He's the one who taught me how to pitch when I was 14, 15 years old," Maddux said.
"He passed away my senior year, but he's the one who taught me movement was more important than velocity. He taught me my fastball that I still try to throw well today."
Maddux's love for baseball is unwavering -- he recently went to watch a softball game in Chicago -- as is his reputation for being a great teammate with a unique insight.
"Greg is fun to be around, actually loves to watch a game when he's not pitching. He's really free with his knowledge helping other players, period. Not just other pitchers but hitters, too," Braves Manager Bobby Cox said.
"He figures things out that other people can't."
Cubs reliever Mike Remlinger, also a teammate in Atlanta, said it is Maddux's ability to observe and form conclusions that has made him great over the years.
"It's kind of mind-boggling. There are times he just throws stuff out there, stuff you'd never think of, and you realize it makes perfect sense," Remlinger said.
Maddux left the Cubs after winning his first Cy Young in 1992 in a salary dispute, helped the Braves win 10 division titles and a World Series in 1995 and then came back to the Cubs this season with a three-year contract.
He started slowly this April, struggling with the strike zone and some of the fickle weather in the early season. But now he's won his last three starts with two complete games and is 10-7.
His second major league win all those years ago came against the team he'll face Sunday, the Phillies, and another pitcher named Maddux -- his brother Mike, now the pitching coach of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Glavine is less than 50 wins from 300, but Mike Maddux says his brother could be the last of a breed on several fronts.
"It's a power game. The finesse pitcher is getting weeded out," Mike Maddux said.
"I think you are looking at the last guy who will ever do it [300 wins]. The game is so offensive-oriented. All the rule changes have gone to the hitter. Ballparks are smaller, balls are livelier, players are bigger and stronger. Much like golf, equipment has gotten better."
Known for his unemotional demeanor on the mound, Maddux credits early teammates Scott Sanderson, Rick Sutcliffe and Goose Gossage as influences. Gossage, he said, taught him how to pitch and then put the performance -- good or bad -- behind him.
Former Braves teammate Chipper Jones plans to call Maddux and offer congratulations once he does reach 300.
"I never doubted that he would eventually get there. I just wished he would be a teammate when he did it," Jones said.
"It's a special time, and I don't think he's gotten enough credit for winning 300 games."
Maddux, with a career record of 299-170, doesn't want credit; he just wants the ball every fifth day with no distractions.
"I'm just glad I'm still playing. When you're a young player, you always say, 'If I can get to 10 years that would be pretty good,' " Maddux said.