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Jewish Journal

Adam Greenberg recalls big league dreams come true

by Jared Sichel

October 23, 2013 | 5:00 pm

Clockwise from top-right: Adam Greenberg was hit in the head during his first at bat in 2005; his 2012 one-game return with the Florida Marlins; playing for Team Israel in the 2012 World Baseball Classic qualifiers.

Clockwise from top-right: Adam Greenberg was hit in the head during his first at bat in 2005; his 2012 one-game return with the Florida Marlins; playing for Team Israel in the 2012 World Baseball Classic qualifiers.

They came to be inspired by a man with precisely two Major League at bats.

The Oct. 6 crowd at Temple Ahavat Shalom (TAS) in Northridge resembled that of a Little League game, as 200 parents and children — many dressed in baseball uniforms — gathered to hear the story of perseverance behind Adam Greenberg, the Jewish professional baseball player who stepped into the batter’s box only twice, seven years apart. 

Dressed casually but sharply in dark blue jeans and a white button-down shirt, Greenberg, a 32-year-old Connecticut native, sat down with the Jewish Journal at TAS prior to his speech about how persistence got him from his first Major League at bat in 2005 to his second one in 2012.

After excelling at baseball in high school and in college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Greenberg found himself sitting in his parents’ New Jersey home in early June 2002, waiting for a call to hear if he had been selected in that year’s Major League Baseball draft.

When he got the call, it was thrilling — and surprising — news. The Chicago Cubs selected him in the ninth round to play centerfield. 

“It was a dream-come-true moment for me to get the call,” Greenberg said. “And then it shocked me because the Cubs were a specific team that my agent had said was not a good fit.”

For three years, he worked his way through the Cubs’ Minor League system — $20 a day for meals, $850 a month for salary, and lots of long bus rides and shoddy hotels. Then he and a teammate, Matt Murton, got a call one night from his manager that they would be meeting the Cubs in Miami.

That, Greenberg said, “was the coolest experience of my life.”

Two nights later, friends and relatives were in the stands as he prepared to play against the Florida Marlins. Greenberg, a left-handed batter, said he wasn’t nervous as he stepped into the batter’s box in the ninth inning, as a pinch hitter, to face lefty pitcher Valerio de los Santos. 

As the now-viral video of the at bat shows, Greenberg prepared for the pitch by going through his regular motions in the batter’s box, bending his knees and shifting the bat and his hips until he settled into a comfortable stance. The boyish-looking, curly-haired Greenberg was ready.

As the catcher set up on the outside half of the plate, away from Greenberg, the rookie awaited his first ever Major League pitch. De los Santos began his delivery toward what was supposed to be a fastball away from Greenberg. 

But there was one problem: De los Santos released the ball at the wrong point, sending a 92 mph fastball too high and inside. He stood there, frozen, as the ball found the one spot on the side of his head unprotected by his helmet, just under his right ear. 

If it had hit him somewhere else, he said, pointing a few inches above the point of impact, the helmet would have protected his head and he would have been fine. Instead, the impact knocked off his helmet and Greenberg bent over, stumbled and fell backward, grabbing the back of his head with both hands as he hit the ground. 

Greenberg still remembers: “As soon as it happened, all I kept saying was, ‘Stay alive. Stay alive. Stay alive.’ ”

He didn’t lose consciousness or awareness, but he lost control of his eyes as they rolled into the back of his head. 

Still, Greenberg wasn’t much worried about his budding professional baseball career. A three-day break in the schedule for the approaching All-Star Game had him thinking, “I’ll be back after the All-Star Break, and I’ll be good to go.”

But he wasn’t. In the Miami airport, he almost fell down and blacked out. If he lay down or moved his head in a certain way, his eyes would move uncontrollably. The headaches, he said, were “unbearable,” and he was diagnosed with positional vertigo, a disorder arising in the inner ear.

Even so, an optimistic Greenberg said he had “no hunch that baseball would be derailed.”

He was sent back to the minors and hopped from ball club to ball club — including the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — for the next six years. Instead of despairing that “all the batting cages, all the games, all the travel hours” only led to one painfully quick plate appearance in Florida, Greenberg said he maintained the attitude, “I’m still going to get back there.”

And he did get back — seven years after his first at bat, thanks to filmmaker Matt Liston, a diehard Cubs fan and Los Angeles resident who followed Greenberg’s career from the time he was a Minor Leaguer. In a telephone interview with the Journal, Liston described how he helped Greenberg get that second chance. 

“What if he doesn’t get back up?” he remembered thinking when the Cubs, in September 2005, didn’t recall Greenberg after they were eliminated from play-off contention. “He was always in the back of my head.”

In 2012, Liston lobbied Major League teams to give Greenberg one more shot. And in September of that year, he created a petition on Change.org for a team to sign him for one at bat. Approximately 27,000 people signed the petition. 

Eventually, Liston set his sights on the Marlins, the same team that put de los Santos on the mound in 2005. And, in a script that Hollywood couldn’t have written much better, Greenberg’s second ever Major League at bat came in a Marlins uniform on Oct. 2, 2012. 

With fans cheering and Greenberg no longer looking like a 24-year-old boy, he faced R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets — the National League’s Cy Young Award winner that year — and struck out on three pitches. He was released the next day.

Without any regrets or bitterness, Greenberg said he has more or less moved on — although he won’t rule out another run at a comeback. Instead, he’s channeled his passion for health and fitness toward helping others. He’s now the CEO and founder of LuRong Living, a nutritional company that aims to improve stamina and shorten recovery time from injuries.

For fans of the baseball classic movie, “Field of Dreams,” Greenberg’s story ought to sound eerily familiar to that of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. Playing for the New York Giants in summer 1905, the 25-year-old Graham was substituted as the right fielder in the eighth inning. In the top of the ninth, waiting on deck with two outs for what would have been his first Major League at bat, the hitter ahead of him flew out, ending the inning. 

After the game, Graham was sent down to the Minor Leagues, never again to play at the Major League level. A few years later, he dedicated himself to healing others, serving as a physician in Chisholm, Minn., for 50 years.

Reflecting on his own life since that auspicious summer evening in Florida, Greenberg sees God’s hand in coming full circle from his first at bat against the Marlins to his second at bat, this time with the Marlins. 

And his message for others that he gleaned from the time in between, he told the Journal, is simple: “If you have passion and you believe in what you are doing you can make it reality.”

Later, he told the starry-eyed, young baseball fans in the room that he accepted his path in life: “What did happen, happened. I’d never be in front of you, I’d never have the opportunity to hopefully impact even one of your lives.”

In “Field of Dreams,” when Graham is told that the tragedy of coming “this close” to a dream and not touching it would kill some men, he responds, “Son, if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes … now that would have been a tragedy.”

“Moonlight” Graham — meet Adam Greenberg.

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