New Year Brings New Opportunity for Ballplayer

As the prayers we recently recited during the High Holidays drove home to us, none of us can know what the New Year holds in store. “Who shall live and who shall die…Who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low.”

Adam Greenberg was a major league hopeful fulfilling a lifelong dream when he got called up to the Chicago Cubs in July, 2005 . In his very first at bat as a major leaguer, Adam was struck in the head by a 92 mph fastball from Marlins pitcher Valerio de los Santos, and fell to the ground. Not only did his major league career, barely out of the gate, appear to have been ended, but likely his ball playing days in general, as Adam faced a series of physical disabilities resulting from the concussion that resulted.

“I had hoped to get back on the field soon after being hit… but saw that that wasn’t going to happen. I remember trying to tie my shoes and falling over, and rolling over in bed and my eyes would shift uncontrollably. I had vertigo, which would cause me to have headaches for hours on end. During that time I was concerned more with the quality of my life than playing ball. At the same time, being just 24 with the dream of playing baseball, I tried to overlook a lot of the symptoms that were going on just to prove that I could still make it as a big leaguer, so it was a tough time.”

In fact, in his return to baseball in the minors the following season, Adam batted .209. “That wasn’t too good,” he said, but then, when he learned that his eyes still were not focusing properly, that he was performing with a major disability, he thought, “Hey, that’s not bad at all.”

Flash forward 7 years… and a combination of dogged persistence, family support, and the determination of many others touched by his story, masquerading as “tshuvah, tefillah utzedakah” served to avert the harsh decree, as Greenberg was signed by the very same Marlins to a one-day contract which brought him back to the batter’s box on October 2 in the next to last game of the season.


Addressing the media prior to the game, Greenberg said he felt blessed, honored and humbled by the turn of events which brought his to this moment, acknowledging in particular the “One At Bat” campaign, spearheaded by Cubs fan and filmmaker Matt Liston, who gathered over 20,000 signatures in an online petition for Greenberg to be granted one major league at bat. Since he was hit in his only time at the plate in 2005, it technically did not count as an official Major League at bat.


“Without the One At Bat campaign … without social media … without the power of the human spirit believing in a cause and coming together this never would have happened,” said Greenberg.

“A lot of personal things in my life have gotten me to this point. I never lost the dream or the desire to play major league baseball. I had it when I was a little kid and after July of 2005 I never lost that dream, no matter how down I got. This is a chance for my family and friends and all those who supported me during the tough times to enjoy this night. And hopefully there is going to be a lot more of this.”

“It’s a special night and a special set of circumstances. I’m overwhelmed by emotion, and I have been able to enjoy every minute of this. The fun is in getting to play ball.”

The team welcomed me with open arms… I am blown away. “When I got the call last week that this was going to happen I was so touched… and then I found out that Mr. (Jeffrey) Loria (the team owner) was also on the line, it was incredible. Then, seeing my name and my number on the jersey – its’ a dream come true. Like – THAT’S ME!! Even the little things, like the new socks, the new shoes, it all meant so much.”

Asked how it felt to be back at the “scene of the crime,” Greenberg commented on the magnificent new stadium (“This is where I get to play!”).

 

When asked his thoughts if things didn’t work out for him from here, if this would prove his last MLB appearance, Greenberg replied, “This is the start of my dream. It’s not a publicity stunt. I’m not out there as a side show. I still have the dream to play in the majors. If after all this it doesn’t happen because of my performance on the field, then I’ll be at peace” But Greenberg admitted that he would be more at peace “when I go to spring training, hopefully with the Marlins,” smiling and nodding in the direction of team owner Loria and team president David Samson.

 

And then... seven years after his first at bat, Greenberg’s moment came in the 6th inning when Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen put him in to lead off the inning. The crowd (such as it was for the last place Marlins, some 29,000) rose to its feet as Greenberg stepped up to home plate to face the Mets’ 20 game winner and Cy Young Award candidate R.A. Dickey. Greenberg took the first pitch for a strike, stuck and missed at the next pitch, and went down swinging on an 80 mph knuckleball. It was all over in 33 seconds. Still the crowd cheered as Greenberg made his way back to the dugout where he was greeted warmly by his new teammates.

Afterwards, Guillen told him, “Don’t worry about (striking out). That guy (Dickey) had some 220 strikeouts this season. You’re just one more victim.” And despite striking out, it meant a lot to Greenberg that Dickey treated him like he would any other batter.

Later, Greenberg described the entire experience as “magical. The energy in the stadium was something I never experienced, and I don’t know if I ever will experience again. You could just feel the genuine support. Even the Mets – I felt like everyone wanted me to get a hit – well, maybe not Dickey!” He noted having “a lot of mixed emotions there, getting high-fived after a strikeout – by the entire team. It was different!”

Guillen, himself a former player, added his own thoughts. “You know what went through my mind? I though how lucky I was to get 10,000 at-bats in the big leagues.”

Greenberg’s one at-bat energized the entire team. “I think I’ve never seen this ball club more excited than today,” noted Guillen. “We’ve been losing so many games we’re starting to hate each other in the dugout. He brought a lot of smiles to the team.”

Prior to the game, Greenberg brought smiles of a different sort as he had to deal with the rookie ritual of singing and dancing in the clubhouse, donning a Speedo and belting out “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” “To be honest, I was more nervous about that than anything else,” the 5’9” Greenberg said. “I was completely humiliated, but (the players) were awesome. They treated me like a member of their team.”

Last month, Greenberg saw action as a member of Team Israel in qualifying round play for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. “I got a call from Brad Ausmus asking me to try out for a spot on the team. That was a wonderful experience and I had the chance to get to know about baseball in Israel.” While Israel failed to qualify with a 9-7 loss to Spain in the finals, Greenberg indicated he was ready to do it again in 2016.

In the days since news of Greenberg’s offer from the Marlins, he has been inundated by messages of others whom he inspired. “My friends have been forwarding all sorts of emails to me from people who were moved by my story. No matter how hard life gets, just get up and keep going on.”

In the stands to see the game, which the Marlins lost 4-3 in 11 innings, were Greenberg’s parents, wife, brothers and sister, all of whom were kvelling. As Adam put it, "Life throws you curveballs; mine there me a fastball at 92 mph.” But as Zionist visionary Benjamin Ze’ev Herzl put it over a hundred years ago: “Im tirtzu, ein zu agadah - If you desire it, it is no mere fable.”


To see video a clip of Adam Greenberg on his big day, click here.