Near the end of a disappointing season, the Miami Marlins are making one of the most magnanimous gestures of this baseball year.
The Marlins said Thursday that they have signed outfielder Adam Greenberg to a one-day, major league contract. Greenberg, hit in the head with a pitch during his only big-league plate appearance seven years ago, will play for the Marlins against the New York Mets Tuesday — the next-to-last day of the season.
”Life’s going to throw you curveballs — or fastballs in the back of your head,” Greenberg said on a conference call Thursday 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.”
Greenberg, then a Chicago Cubs prospect, saw only one pitch during the fateful July 9, 2005, game against the Marlins. He experienced vertigo as a result of the pitch, thrown by reliever Valerio De Los Santos. Greenberg hasn’t been back to the major leagues since.
Greenberg, 31, continued his career as a minor leaguer in the Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Angels organizations. He also played independent baseball, most recently for the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League from 2008 through 2011. Greenberg also appeared in two games for Team Israel during this month’s World Baseball Classic qualifier, walking in his lone trip to the plate.
“I’m extremely proud to extend this opportunity to Adam,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said in a news release. “He has earned this chance as his love and passion for the game never diminished, despite his career tragically being cut short. I look forward to seeing Adam step up to the plate and realizing his comeback dream next Tuesday night.”
Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said Greenberg may start.
”I might start him in left field and have him lead off,” Guillen said before Thursday night’s game in Atlanta. ”If he hits a home run, he stays!”
”They’re trying to give this kid a dream come true,” Guillen said. ”Why not give the kid a chance to be what he wants to be?”
Guillen said he has had a couple days to consider the best way to use Greenberg. He thinks it will be better to have Greenberg start than to find the right place in the game to come in as a pinch hitter.
”It’s more important to me to win the game,” Guillen said.
Marlins right-hander Carlos Zambrano was with the Cubs in 2005 and was used as a pinch runner for Greenberg. Zambrano said Thursday he did not remember his role in the game.
”He wasn’t a fit for us,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Thursday. ”I wish him the best.”
The Mets’ probable starter on Tuesday will be Cy Young candidate R.A. Dickey.
”I know our guys will be on the top step clapping for him when he gets in the batter’s box,” Mets manager Terry Collins said Thursday when asked about Greenberg’s story.
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. Fred van Dusen 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, since his first appearance in the majors did not count as an official at-bat, just merely 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.
”Dude can play,” Ruggiano said on Twitter.
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’ 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 is $2,623 — 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 said he’s hopeful of getting a chance to play for some club in spring training next year. He also insisted that this is not a stunt.
”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.”
The Marlins said Greenberg will donate his one-day salary to the Sports Legacy Institute by way of the Marlins Foundation. SLI, the well-known organization founded by Christopher Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu, studies the crisis of brain trauma in sports and advocates for more proactive treatment of concussions.