Greenberg Gets His One At Bat
MIAMI - It was game 161 of 162 in the Major League Baseball season. Two teams well out of the playoffs, each at least 23 games out of a playoff spot, played the penultimate contest in a dying regular season. And yet there were 29,709 people buzzing in Marlins Park Tuesday night when the visiting New York Mets took on the Miami Marlins.
There were superstars in the dugouts, sure. There was Jose Reyes and Giancarlo Stanton, David Wright and R.A. Dickey. But the buzz in the air wasn't really about them. It was about a player on a one-day contract. It was about Adam Greenberg.
Seven years ago, the former Tar Heel outfielder saw one pitch in the Major Leagues. While playing for the Chicago Cubs, Greenberg was hit in the head by a 92 mile per hour fastball from Valerio de los Santos. The resulting damage: concussions, vertigo and vision problems, could have ended his dream then and there. But Greenberg didn't give up on that dream, unwilling to let one freak pitch have the last word.
Documentary filmmaker Matt Liston took up Greenberg's cause and began the One At Bat Greenberg campaign. More than 27,000 people signed a petition to get Greenberg that chance. The Marlins, the team Greenberg was facing when that pitch hit his head, answered the call and signed him to a one-day contract for Tuesday, October 2, 2012.
There were an unusual amount of people on the field for batting practice in the hours before Tuesday's game. The One At Bat documentary film crew was there, but so was Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, for example. So was former Marlin Jeff Conine. As Adam stepped into the cage, cameras tracked his every move. The lefty looked like a natural in the batter's box. Just before the Marlins wrapped up BP, Greenberg stepped in for one more pitch. He crushed it more than 335 feet and over the right field fence.
More fans began to trickle in, and they were holding posters. 'One At Bat Greenberg,' they read. Fifteen-thousand were handed out at the gates. Former Tar Heel clubhouse manager Travis Everette ran into Diamond Heels coach Mike Fox as they entered the stadium. "Three people ahead of us, there's a guy with an Adam Greenberg Marlins jersey on," Everette said later. Greenberg jerseys went for $100 in the team store. T-shirts, $25.
Greenberg's family gave interviews as they watched warmups. "It's a baseball game. It's something he's loved to do from the time he was five years old," Greenberg's father Mark said. "He's continued to work hard despite pretty significant setbacks and I think that's what a lot of people see. We're just proud of him."
Wendy Greenberg, Adam's mother, shared a hug with Mets infielder Ronny Cedeno. Adam and Cedeno were teammates in the Cubs organization. Brother Sam marveled as the smiling fans continued to fill in. "This is going to be a scene unlike anything else," he said.
Before and during the game, Liston appeared on the stadium's gigantic video board to tell Greenberg's story. Fans chanted 'One At Bat' and held their signs aloft. The cameras found Greenberg in the dugout. He smiled, and the cheers continued.
Greenberg didn't start the game on Tuesday, but there were (literally) signs of him everywhere. The ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by 75 year-old Fred Van Dusen, who like Greenberg stood in the batter's box, was hit by a pitch and never recorded an official Major League at-bat.
The Marlins led 2-0 when Greenberg pinch hit for Bryan Peterson to lead off the sixth inning. As he was announced over the public address system, the crowd rose to its feet and gave a roar. They remained there as he stepped in against Dickey. The one-on-one matchup almost seemed appropriate. The pitcher a 37 year-old former washout turned knuckleballer and 20-game winner, the batter a 31 year-old making his debut again after seven years.
He stepped in the batter's box, then away. "I wanted to savor that moment to be honest, because I didn't last time," he said later. "My normal routine is to get in the box and dig in and be ready and I remembered digging in and stepping out and I let the energy flow. I let everyone cheer because I was ready first pitch, and I didn't want it to end that quickly. So when I stepped out, I got to feel it and truly cherish and savor that moment, and I'll never forget that." The first pitch from Dickey was a signature knuckleball. Greenberg watched it for a strike. "After it became strike one, after a pitch that I thought dropped three feet, I said I was ready to hit then but now I'm coming out of my shoes." Two more knuckleballs. He swung and missed at both. Three pitches, three strikes. If only he'd seen a fastball.
What followed was perhaps the loudest ovation in the history of home-team strikeouts. The crowd had never left its feet, but they showered Greenberg with cheers as he returned to the dugout, smiling all the way. He high-fived his teammates. When Scott Cousins ran out to left field in the seventh inning, Greenberg's night was done.
"It was magical," Greenberg said after the game, a walk-off win for the Marlins. "The energy that was in the stadium was something that I've never experienced in my life, and I don't know if I'll ever experience it again. Everyone that was there, I think, probably felt the same thing. The applause, you could just feel the genuine support. It was awesome."
After the win, Greenberg took his cap off to thank the crowd, and they responded in kind. Thankful that they'd gotten to see him step back in, even if it was to strike out.
"It was a lot of mixed emotions there. Getting high-fived after a strikeout by your entire team and having people cheer, it was different to say the least but it just proved that this really was important to a lot of people," he said. "My teammates, the organization, even the Mets. Even their guys, I felt them wanting me to get a hit. Maybe not Dickey, but he came after me the same way that I would expect him to. He came after me like a big-league hitter," Greenberg said. "I've said it already: he beat me tonight, but I expect to have another opportunity to face him."
On a Tuesday night in October, Adam Greenberg stepped back into a Major League batter's box. He saw three pitches and connected on none. He'd struck out, but he'd gotten his at bat. Officially.