Adam Greenberg, hit on the head by the first Major League Baseball pitch that he faced back in 2005, struck out on Tuesday in his return to the batters’ box seven years after his ill-fated first visit.
Greenberg, signed to a one-day contract by the Miami Marlins, was inserted as a pinch-hitter to start the sixth inning and went down swinging on only three pitches from New York Mets ace knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
“It was a magical moment,” Greenberg said. “In a sense I was honored to strike out against him.”
The Marlins would win 4-3 in 11 innings, but the outcome between teams long-since ousted from the playoff hunt was less meaningful than Greenberg’s inspiring comeback tale from lasting injuries after being struck in the head.
Greenberg, 31, was a pinch-hitter for the Chicago Cubs on July 9, 2005, in a game against the Marlins when the first pitch he faced, a 92mph (148kph) fastball from Valerio de los Santos, struck him just below his right ear.
“The sound, the way he went down — the first thing that went through your mind was: ‘This guy is dead,’” De los Santos said at the time.
Greenberg crumpled into the dirt of the batter’s box. His parents, there to watch their son live his dream, watched in horror as he was taken off the field and to a nearby hospital.
“I lost control of my eyes and thought my head was split open,” Greenberg said. “I never lost consciousness. I grabbed my head, and I kept saying: ‘Stay alive.’”
Since then, Greenberg has struggled with post-concussion syndrome, vertigo, nausea, headaches, dizziness and double vision. He could not lace his shoes without losing his balance.
Greenberg was never able to return to the major leagues. He spent years in developmental leagues and played for Israel in World Baseball Classic qualifying last month.
On Tuesday, he was cheered, signed autographs and learned he will have his own trading card with a picture from his moment at the plate, a youthful dream for many baseball players.
“The outcome from a competitive standpoint meant a lot,” Greenberg said. “I wanted to get on base. I wanted to get a hit. The true outcome, strikeout, that didn’t matter. It was a true success before I left the dugout and got to the batter’s box.”
Greenberg became a unique footnote in baseball history, the only player among more than 18,000 major leaguers whose career ended after one pitch and without an official time at bat, until Tuesday.
“He has earned this chance as his love and passion for the game never diminished despite his career tragically being cut short,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said.
Greenberg donated his one-game salary of about US$2,600 to the Marlins charity foundation, which donated the money to the Sports Legacy Institute, which examines treatments and preventions for brain trauma in athletes.
“Life’s going to throw you curveballs ... or a fastball to the back of your head,” Greenberg said. “I got hit by one of them. It knocked me down. I could have stayed there. I had a choice.”
“I chose to get up and get back in the box. That’s the kind of message to everyone, that whatever is going on in their personal lives, get back up. Good things happen,” he said. “Sometimes it takes seven years.”