MIAMI - Adam Greenberg has faced one pitch in the major leagues, a 92-mile-per-hour fastball that struck him in the head and changed his life.
More than seven years later, the Miami Marlins are giving him a second chance.
The Marlins said yesterday they have signed Greenberg to a one-day contract, effective Oct. 2, and will play him that day against the New York Mets. Greenberg made his big-league debut for the Chicago Cubs on July 9, 2005 against the Marlins, getting one plate appearance but no official at-bat.
"Life's going to throw you curveballs - or fastballs in the back of your head," Greenberg said on a conference call yesterday morning. "I got hit by one of them. And it knocked me down and I could have stayed there. I had a choice ... and I chose to get up and get back in the box." The Marlins publicly extended the invitation to Greenberg on NBC's "Today" show yesterday morning.
Greenberg said team president David Samson had called him Sunday night to tell him of the team's plans to sign him to a one-day deal.
"I'm extremely proud to extend this opportunity to Adam," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said in a statement.
Greenberg, a left-handed batter, went to the plate as a pinch hitter to face the Marlins' Valerio De Los Santos with one out in the ninth inning of a Cubs-Marlins game. De Los Santos' first pitch sailed up and in, striking Greenberg in the back of the helmet. His helmet flew off and the ball ricocheted up the third-base line.
Greenberg tumbled to the dirt, both hands holding the back of his head. He has often described that moment as feeling like "my head exploded." He awoke the next morning with symptoms of a concussion - unable to focus and feeling nauseous when seeing bright light.
After struggles in the minors the next season, the Cubs released him in June 2006. Greenberg had chances with other minor-league teams, but never made the majors again.
"I look forward to seeing Adam step up to the plate and realizing his comeback dream," Loria said.
The Mets' probable starter on Tuesday will be Cy Young candidate R.A. Dickey. Greenberg said the Marlins have not told him if he will start, pinch-hit or play the field.
Greenberg is one of only two players in baseball history to be hit by a pitch in his first-and-only major league appearance and never take the field; the other is Fred van Dusen, who endured that fate with Philadelphia in 1955.
Greenberg was the subject of a campaign called One At Bat, which lobbied teams to give him a second chance. As of yesterday morning, nearly 25,000 people had signed the online petition urging any major league club to give Greenberg an opportunity - since his first appearance in the majors did not count as an official at-bat, just a plate appearance.
"I just really want to make sure everyone understands that this is an amazing thing, for not just me but for a lot of people," Greenberg said.
He and Marlins outfielder Justin Ruggiano once were teammates with the Double-A Jacksonville Suns, playing together there in 2006.
"Woke up [this] morning to find out Adam Greenberg and I will be teammates again this year! Dude can play," Ruggiano wrote on Twitter early yesterday. "Looking forward to Oct. 2."
It is ironic how the Marlins have been involved in just about every aspect of Greenberg's story. His lone plate appearance for the Cubs came in Miami.
When he played earlier this month for Israel's entry in the qualifying round for the World Baseball Classic, he played and trained at the Marlins' training complex in Jupiter, Fla. And now his comeback game will be in Miami, albeit a different park than where he faced that fateful pitch seven years ago.
"Going back to the scene of the crime but a different location, I kind of look at it as a new stadium, new start," said Greenberg, who drew a walk in his lone plate appearance for Israel in the WBC qualifying games. "For me, it's just down the street, but it's a new opportunity. It's really cool and special to have the Marlins, of course, recognize all of this. And to have it come full circle with them, it's just so gratifying, rewarding and special."
Greenberg faced De Los Santos again in 2011, hitting a single off him as a member of the Bridgeport Bluefish in the independent Atlantic League.
The Marlins say Greenberg will donate his one-day salary - a pro-rated share of the minimum contract, about $3,000 - to the team's foundation, which will in turn donate to the Sports Legacy Institute, a group that furthers the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and others.
Greenberg says he hopes to get a chance to play for a club in spring training next year. He also insists that this is not a stunt, and that because his first trip to the majors in 2005 was earned, he hopes people don't look at what's happening next week as an undeserved gift.
"I'm no different or more special than anyone else," Greenberg said. "It just so happened that my story was the Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN and it was the first pitch I ever saw and I got hit in the back of the head. Tragedy for me, but it's part of the game."
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