The memories, Adam Greenberg says, are not rushing back to him this past week. Maybe it’s because what happened took place seven years ago. Maybe it’s because they’re not the kind of memories anyone would want to relive.
A life-changing moment it was, when he stepped to the plate as a Chicago Cub against the Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium. Left-hander Valerio De Los Santos threw a 91 mph fastball. Less than a half-second later − not enough time to react − the ball struck Greenberg behind the right ear with such force that De Los Santos feared he’d just killed a man.
Greenberg was making his debut, so it was the first major-league pitch he ever saw.
It may be the last.
If Greenberg, 31, is correct in describing his journey back as a roller-coaster ride, at least he’s chugging skyward. On Tuesday, he learned he had made the Israeli roster as an outfielder. He walked in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s 7-3 victory over South Africa, scoring Israel’s final run of the game a the World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament at Roger Dean Stadium, just an hour’s drive from the 2005 incident.
There’s more. Greenberg’s story is so wrenching that it caught the eye of filmmaker Matt Liston, a lifelong Cubs fan, who launched an online drive to get Greenberg at least one official at-bat, since getting hit by a pitch doesn’t count.
“Go ahead, knock yourself out,” Greenberg remembers telling Liston. Greenberg, who has played the past four years in the independent leagues, didn’t ask for the attention and might well have forgotten the whole thing − except that oneatbat.com boasted 22,259 signatures as of Tuesday, reportedly including support from ex-major leaguers Kerry Wood and George Brett, Olympic swimmer Janet Evans and Marlins outfielder Logan Morrison. Campaign-style posters have popped up in Chicago.
Greenberg finds his newfound fame “pretty remarkable” but stresses he’s not chasing a PR stunt. He hopes to convince a scout he’s worthy of a spring-training invitation during the tournament, which concludes tonight.
“I’ll play for free, just an opportunity,” he says.
He wants to dig into the batter’s box as he did July 9, 2005. But that ended with him collapsing and instinctively grabbing his head, believing if he didn’t, it would split apart. Remarkably, he flashed his sense of humor when trainers tested him by asking where he’d been two days prior: “I was in the minor leagues,” he said. “And I’m not going back.”
Headaches, vision problems and vertigo followed, in what he calls a frustrating and frightening several years of struggling to regain his quality of life. Today, he doesn’t waste time mourning.
“Who knows what my life would have turned into if that didn’t happen?” says Greenberg, who no longer suffers after-effects. “I could have been hit by the second pitch, you know, and I might not be sitting here today. I might not be married. I might not have a successful (nutritional) business...
“I am still here. I still have a jersey and I’ll be representing a nation for the first time.”
In the 1989 film Field of Dreams, Burt Lancaster played “Moonlight” Graham, a real-life outfielder for the New York Giants in 1905 whose only major-league appearance ended with him in the on-deck circle, never getting a chance to bat. In the movie, Lancaster says, “Back then I thought, ‘Well, there’ll be other days.’ I didn’t realize that was the only day.”
Greenberg was like anyone else watching the film, yearning for Graham to somehow get another chance. Kevin Costner’s plowed-over cornfield afforded the fictional Graham that opportunity.
The parallels to Greenberg’s story are striking: The two incidents happened almost exactly 100 years apart. Because Graham’s first name was Archibald, both have the initials A.G. Both attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While Greenberg once grew weary of the link, he’s now philosophical.
“Of course,” Greenberg says of the connection he felt watching the film. “When he’s explaining how it feels to make contact with the ball and slide into third base and wrap his arms around a base, have that tingling feeling − all those things.
“That’s why we play. That’s why we played as kids and that’s why I continue to play now. So how could you not? You want him to experience it. I want to experience it and that’s why the overwhelming corps of support is showing, because I think people put themselves in that situation: ‘Oh my God, could you imagine that happening to you?’”
Israel manager Brad Ausmus can.
“The story itself is kind of a Greek tragedy in a sense,” Ausmus says. “He certainly has shown us in a short period of time here that he still loves the game of baseball. He’s still in great shape. Clearly, I hope this isn’t the end of the story. I hope this is the second chapter of the story and somehow, somewhere, he gets another opportunity, maybe from a scout or an executive seeing him play here − Is that a long shot? Probably so, but it would certainly be a happy ending.”
There already is a postscript to the tale. De Los Santos and Greenberg faced each other in the minor leagues last year.
“It was a really special moment for both of us,” Greenberg says of facing De Los Santos, who pitched in just two major-league games after his one season with the Marlins. “It was a ‘major-league at-bat,’ a ‘major-league’ setting. It didn’t matter if it was one person in the stands or 50,000. It was really important to put that behind both of us.”
How did it turn out?
“I won. I got a hit.”
(Reprinted with permission from the Palm Beach Post.)