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Cubs Wed Oct 03 2012
The moment that Adam Greenberg has dreamed about the past seven years probably ended far differently in his imagination than it did last night. Thirty-six seconds is all it took for Cy Young award candidate R.A. Dickey to blow three knuckleballs by the one-time Cubs prospect. His career is now over for a second time.
July 9, 2005. Greenberg was a promising prospect for the Cubs making his Major League debut. He was never going to hit 20 homers or steal 30 bases, but he possessed a skill that was quickly becoming coveted by every team at the time: the ability to draw a walk.
His first plate appearance came in the same city as Tuesday's did: Miami. It didn't last nearly as long. The first pitch turned out to be one he never saw; he was drilled in the back of the head by a 92mph fastball from journeyman lefty Valerio de los Santos.
Greenberg did his best to battle his way back to the majors after the horrifying incident. He suffered through nasty post-concussion symptoms years before head injuries were taken seriously on a national level. But despite on-base numbers close to his career average, he never again cracked the majors. Teams are very protective over 40-man roster spots, and there wasn't room for an aging prospect with no power and a major injury risk. If he came to the majors and hit the disabled list for any reason, the team is on the hook to pay him a salary until he's healthy enough to come off and return to the minors.
He bounced around in the minors and independent leagues for a few years before his chances finally ran out. That is, until a miracle happened. An online campaign started by writer/producer Matt Liston to get Greenberg "One At Bat" resulted in the Miami Marlins giving the one-time prospect a chance at recording one official at bat in the Major Leagues (walks and hit-by-pitches don't count as an official at bat according to the rulebook). Until then, he was the only person to ever have his career end after one pitch out of the more than 17,500 players that have thrown a pitch or stepped in a batter's box at the game's highest level.
Weeks earlier, the Cubs passed on the opportunity to give Greenberg a second chance with the team that originally gave him the call. General manager Jed Hoyer said in an email:
"Adam made the big leagues based on merit in 2005. While it is unfortunate he got hit in his first at-bat, he is in the Baseball Encyclopedia as a major leaguer and he should be incredibly proud of that. We wish him the best, but there are no plans to add him to the roster now or in the future."
Hoyer's response is exactly what you'd expect from the new Cubs front office. It was a calculated response; one that was entirely focused on player development and the future of the organization rather than publicity and ticket sales.
Greenberg's career ended tragically. Nobody should ever suffer the way he did, physically or emotionally. To have your dream ended just seconds after it began is indescribable. Giving him a second chance is a story that makes you feel good. It makes you feel like someone in a baseball front office still has a soul.
But then I think of the tens of thousands of players who never got the opportunity that Greenberg had seven years ago. Lifers, they're called. Guys who ride buses, stay in crappy motels, and eat countless meals out of a bag; the guys who give a better part of their young adult life to the game that they love, but never get the call to the managers office with a plane ticket sitting on the desk. What about those guys?
Greenberg got his chance. Was it short? Absolutely. Do we wish it lasted longer? Without question. Is it worthy of charity? Not so much.
Ask a guy that's played 10+ years in the minors about Greenberg getting his second plate appearance, and you'll get a response that involves the player giving anything to have just one. They may ask, why doesn't a team give an unused September roster spot to one of them?
For the Marlins, it's nothing more than a publicity stunt. They're trying to make nice with the community after spending hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to fund their now half-empty stadium housing a bad team managed by a lunatic who loves Fidel Castro. Sure, they're doing something nice, but their heart is in the wrong place.
Greenberg may sleep better at night knowing that he's now got an official at bat in the Major Leagues. Those guys that haven't even gotten their first plate appearance? They'll likely be up at the crack of dawn for an early morning workout, followed by hours of hitting off a tee and in the batting cage, doing everything they can to earn their spot in The Show. Just like Adam Greenberg once did.