Adam Greenberg wasn’t in a bright mood Saturday. The former Chicago Cub – famously hit in the head in his only Major League plate appearance – had just watched Spain knock out his team, Israel, in World Baseball Classic qualifying in Florida.
A friend approached him after the game, saying he had someone on the phone with good news. The Team Israel reserve outfielder said he didn’t particularly want to hear it, but his friend insisted.
The man on the phone was Miami Marlins General Manager David Sampson. The Marlins – the very team that knocked him out of his only MLB game seven years ago – wanted to give him a full Major League at-bat.
“He ended up smiling after all,” filmmaker Matt Liston – the friend and the man who’s pushed full-time for Greenberg’s return – told CNN by phone Thursday.
The Marlins on Thursday confirmed what they told Greenberg over the weekend: They’ve signed the 31-year-old former prospect to a one-day contract so he can finally have a proper MLB at-bat on Tuesday, when the Marlins host the Mets in their penultimate game of the season.
“I am so honored and humbled to have this opportunity at a second chance. Thank you!” Greenberg said on a website for the supplements business he runs in Connecticut.
The moment will be seven years in the making, following the play that knocked him out of his only game and may have derailed a longer MLB career.
On July 9, 2005, the then-24-year-old Greenberg stepped up to the plate to pinch-hit for the Cubs, who had just called him up from the minors, at Miami’s Dolphins Stadium.
His first MLB appearance ended with a thud as Marlins reliever Valerio de los Santos’ pitch hit Greenberg in the head and sent him to the ground. Greenberg, in severe pain, had to leave the game without playing defense and no official at-bat – it counts only as a plate appearance – and the Cubs would never use him again.
As Chicago Magazine and ESPN’s "Outside the Lines" have documented, Greenberg was dizzy for months, had blurred vision, and had trouble playing when he returned to the minors weeks after the incident. He eventually was diagnosed with positional vertigo.
Symptoms eventually improved, but he struggled in the minors. He last played professionally in 2011 for the Atlantic League's Bridgeport Bluefish in his home state, Connecticut, where he runs his LuRong Living business.
ESPN kept Greenberg’s story alive with a couple “OTL” segments. And this year, Liston, the filmmaker, made it his mission to get him a real MLB at-bat.
Liston, a Cubs fan and Chicago native living in California, took up Greenberg’s cause this year, after he and his wife saw “Field of Dreams,” a baseball movie that includes the story of Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, who never came to bat in his only big-league game in 1905.
"My wife said she felt sorry for him. I said, 'Moonlight Graham has (nothing) on Adam Greenberg. Graham played a couple innings. Adam only got a couple seconds,'" Liston said.
Liston, who didn’t know Greenberg but saw the plate appearance on TV, decided he wanted to help him get a proper MLB at-bat. So, armed with credentials – he made the 2007 film “Chasing October” about the 2003 Cubs – he visited baseball training camps, trying to persuade players and general managers that Greenberg deserved a shot.
He and a dozen or so friends organized the “One At Bat” campaign, taking to Twitter and Facebook to rally public support. They also started a Change.org petition – it had more than 25,000 supporters as of Thursday – that Liston hoped would persuade the Cubs’ management to bring him back for a game this month. Liston, who met with the Cubs in May, also contacted Greenberg and ended up befriending him as he kept him updated.
But the Cubs announced this month that they weren’t on board. “Adam made the big leagues based on merit in 2005,” Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer told the Chicago Tribune in an e-mail. “While it is unfortunate he got hit in his first at-bat, he is in the Baseball Encyclopedia as a major leaguer and 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.”
So, Liston pressed other teams, eventually meeting in New York with the Marlins’ Sampson. There, Sampson told Liston in confidence that the Marlins would do it.
Liston kept the secret as he flew to Florida, where Greenberg was with Team Israel at the WBC qualifiers.
“I hung out with Adam’s parents the night before (Saturday’s game) and I wanted to tell them so bad that night, but I knew Adam needed to have that moment,” Liston said.
On Saturday, Liston – who is filming Greenberg’s story for a documentary – and his cameras were at the park to help Sampson deliver the news.
Liston praised Marlins officials for being “fearless.”
“I can’t thank (Marlins owner) Jeffrey Loria and David Sampson enough, because they could get a little heat over this, though I think they’ll get more (applause) than heat,” he said.
Liston said the Marlins’ decision is especially beautiful because this was the team that knocked Greenberg from his only MLB game. Liston will be at the game, the result of which will affect no pennant chase, as both the Mets and the Marlins are at the bottom end of the National League East.
“For a while it looked like his career ended in Florida. The fact that the next chance is coming in Florida, I love the irony of it, and so do Adam and his parents,” Liston said.