The roaring crowd rose as one when Adam Greenberg walked to the plate for the first time in seven years, and Marlins teammates leaning over the dugout railing joined the applause.
Three strikes later, they were cheering still. Greenberg’s second chance in the major leagues went a lot better than the first one, even though he struck out.
”It was magical,” he said. ”The energy in the stadium was something I never experienced, and I don’t know if I will ever experience it again. You could just feel the genuine support. It was awesome.”
Beaned by the first pitch he saw in the majors in 2005, Greenberg made a comeback Tuesday night and fanned on three pitches as a pinch-hitter for Miami. The Marlins won 4-3 in 11 innings.
Greenberg signed a one-day contract before the game and led off the sixth inning against New York Mets 20-game winner R.A. Dickey, who threw him three consecutive knuckleballs. Greenberg took the first for a strike, then swung at the next two and missed.
The game was Greenberg’s first since his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs in 2005, when he was hit in the back of the head by the first pitch he saw – a 92 mph fastball that derailed his career.
Back in the big leagues at age 31, Greenberg took part in batting practice and then watched the early innings from the bench. After Rob Brantly homered, he received a celebratory chest bump from a grinning Greenberg in the dugout.
By the fifth inning, Greenberg had a bat in his hands as he paced in the dugout. In the sixth, manager Ozzie Guillen sent him up to bat for outfielder Bryan Petersen.
Guillen, a former player, watched as Greenberg walked to the plate and the ballpark shook with a roar.
”You know what went through my mind?” Guillen said. ”I said how lucky I was to get 10,000 at-bats in the big leagues.”
Greenberg swung under an 80 mph knuckler for strike three, and the crowd groaned, then renewed its cheers as Greenberg returned to the bench. He smiled as he received a hug and back slaps from Jose Reyes, high fives from other teammates and a whisper in the ear from Guillen.
”A lot of mixed emotions there, getting high-fived after a strikeout by the entire team,” Greenberg said. ”It was different.”
When Greenberg slipped his bat into the rack, he was still grinning. The at-bat had lasted 33 seconds.
”It’s going to last an eternity for me,” he said.
Guillen replaced him in the lineup before the next inning.
Greenberg said he was overwhelmed by the positive reception from his new teammates, who gave him a pregame rookie hazing in the clubhouse. He donned a USA Speedo and drew playful boos when he sang ”Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”
”I was completely humiliated, but they were awesome,” Greenberg said. ”They treated me like a member of their team.”
The 5-foot-9 Greenberg said he hoped the game marks only the beginning of a career comeback. He didn’t play in the minor leagues this year and hasn’t been with a major league organization since 2008, but he still harbors hopes of a big league job.
Greenberg recently played for Israel in the qualifying round of the World Baseball Classic.
”Hopefully there is going to be a lot more of this. This is good stuff,” Greenberg said at a pregame news conference. ”I want to show everyone I can play, although you can never really truly do that in one at-bat, especially if it ends up being against Dickey.”
Several Marlins played with Greenberg in the minors as he struggled to recover from his beaning.
”He was a good player, and for it to be ruined on one pitch is a tough blow, if you will,” catcher John Buck said. ”But he has fought back. This is one of those good stories for young kids and what baseball is about – enduring to the end, and making the most of your opportunity.”
The Greenberg signing was a rare feel-good story for the last-place Marlins, who have endured the most disappointing season in the franchise’s 20-year history.
”I think I’ve never seen this ballclub more excited than today,” Guillen said. ”We’ve been losing so many games we hate each other.”
The Marlins gave Greenberg jersey No. 10, a more prestigious number than the No. 66 he recalled wearing in Cubs spring training.
An outfielder, he made his big league debut with the Cubs in Miami on July 9, 2005, and was hit by a pitch thrown by Marlins left-hander Valerio De Los Santos. He sustained a concussion that caused vision problems, vertigo and headaches lasting hours at a time, and it was nearly two years before he regained full health.
”I was concerned more with the quality of my life than playing ball,” he said. ”It was a tough time.”
He married, started a health-supplement business and played in the independent Atlantic League. A recent online campaign known as ”One At Bat” lobbied for Greenberg to get a second chance in the majors, and the Marlins last week offered him an opportunity to play in the next-to-last game of their season.
For seven years, Greenberg was one of only two players to be hit by a pitch in his lone big league appearance and never take the field. The other was Fred van Dusen with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1955.
Van Dusen flew down from his home in Franklin, Tenn., to attend Tuesday’s game. He threw out the first pitch and joined the rest of the crowd applauding Greenberg’s comeback.
”Life throws you curveballs,” Greenberg said. ”Mine threw me a fastball at 92, and it hit me in the back of the head. I got up from it, and my life is great.”