By: Neil Keefe
Seven years removed from the only pitch he ever saw in the majors, Adam Greenberg returned to a major league batter’s box on Tuesday night as a pinch hitter for the Miami Marlins against the New York Mets’ R.A. Dickey.
After a 92-mph fastball to the back of the head on the first and only pitch he was ever thrown in the majors derailed his career at the age of 24, Greenberg received a one-day contract from the Marlins to have a chance to experience the at-bat he earned and deserved before being injured with the Chicago Cubs.
Greenberg joined CBS Local Sports to talk about his experience facing R.A. Dickey and what his plans are for the future to return to the majors for more than just one at-bat.
CBS Local Sports: You found out last week that you would be returning to the majors for one at-bat with the Miami Marlins against the New York Mets on Tuesday and the opposing pitcher happens to be knuckleballer and Cy Young candidate R.A. Dickey. It almost seems like you would have been better off facing Justin Verlander or CC Sabathia or Felix Hernandez, or someone who doesn’t have the most unique pitch in the world. You said prior to the game that you had seen knuckleballers in the past, but Dickey is the best one on the planet and maybe the best one ever. What was going through your mind when you found out the at-bat would come against Dickey?
Greenberg: I want to make one thing very clear: I knew that when I said I faced knuckleballers in the past, I knew that he was something special. You don’t win 20 games in the major leagues being a knuckleballer and not being that much better than everyone else that’s out there. You can’t really prepare for him. I was excited. I was looking forward to the opportunity to face potentially the Cy Young award winner. I wanted to see what it’s like because I wanted to compete. And as a competitor that’s what its all about. Would it have been better to face Verlander or CC or Felix? There is no better. It was a chance and an opportunity of a lifetime to relive my moment that I missed out on in 2005 and I got to enjoy it and it was an at-bat that he had better stuff than me. He beat me last night, but I’m really hopeful that last night isn’t the last night we’re going to face each other.
CBS Local Sports: On Tuesday night, you walk up to the plate with “Dream On” playing and everyone at Marlins Park is on their feet. You step in the box and that first pitch from Dickey drops about three feet by the time it gets to you to fall in for a strike. What’s going through your head leading up to that at-bat and since you had a few days to think about what your approach would be at the plate, were you going to take strike one or the first pitch no matter what?
Greenberg: No, I absolutely was not. I was up there ready and aggressive and the fact I was leading off an inning and it wasn’t the end of the game was good because I did get to mentally prepare for what my approach would be against Dickey. If he threw me a first-pitch fastball, I was going to jump all over it. I didn’t want him to sneak one in there and get ahead of me by any means. And when he threw that first knuckler and it dropped the way that it did, I got see it, I got to track it and it was good. Obviously the next two pitches were totally different than the first one and that’s what makes him so great is he’s able to put some on and take some off of his knuckleball. Some are going to drop three feet and some are just going to accelerate and dive out of the zone, and the second pitch, that’s exactly what it did. It started middle of the plate and looked like a good pitch to hit and by the time it crossed the plate it jumped right off the plate. That was a great pitch and the next one he threw was just like the first one, at least out of his hand. It started high and just accelerated and almost cut back in towards me, and it didn’t drop. So it was great. It really was a great experience.
CBS Local Sports: When the news first broke about your one-day contract with the Marlins, Ozzie Guillen said he didn’t really know how he would utilize you and whether he would let you start the game and play the outfield and bat in the bottom of the first, or if he would use you in the middle innings or the late innings. Did you know an inning before that you were going to hit when you did or were you just told to grab a bat? How much time in advance did you know you were going to face Dickey in that spot?
Greenberg: I had two outs to prepare. It was kind of more like, “Hey, you’re up. Get ready to go hit.” I assumed that when our starter was getting ready to be done and his spot in the order was going to come up that would be my shot. He ended up making the last out of the fifth and the left fielder was due up leadoff, so I knew there was a possibility, so I was mentally ready for anything that Ozzie chose to do. When he did call my number I was excited. I was in the game. I knew what was going on. I knew the situation. And once again I knew my approach of what I was going to do and how I was going to attack Dickey.
CBS Local Sports: After that at-bat you walked back to the dugout and got a hug from Jose Reyes and then stopped and had a moment with Ozzie Guillen in the dugout. Guillen said after the game, “You know what went through my mind? I said how lucky I was to get 10,000 at-bats in the big leagues.” What did he say to you when you got back to the dugout?
Greenberg: It was just a nice moment between he and I. Without a specific quote he was just proud of me and happy for me. It really meant a lot because he was thrown a little curveball to put me in and hadn’t really seen me play ever. The fact that he went along with it and let me be a part of the team and treated me like a big leaguer was really great. I was disappointed at the result because I wanted to help the Marlins win a game and ultimately I hope and I believe that it was the energy in the stadium and what I bring to a team both on and off the field that helped win that game, so it wasn’t about the at-bat itself.
CBS Local Sports: You show up to the park yesterday and they have a “Greenberg 10” jersey in the window of one of the stores. You’re taking batting practice, you hit one out and you’re mingling with guys like David Wright. Its like you’re a part of this team, but you know that at least for this season, it’s only going to last one day. And then the game goes to extra innings and keeps getting extended and the game and night continues on a little longer. What’s going through your mind last night as you go to sleep and the day finally comes to an end?
Greenberg: I think it was fitting it went extra innings and I think somebody wanted me to be a major leaguer for a little longer than just the nine. It was a place where I was at home. I’ve had a relationship with David Wright. Years ago, he came on a recruiting trip down to North Carolina. I remember playing against him in the Florida State League and going out to dinner. He and I both had the same agent. Ronny Cedeno was on that team and Kelly Shoppach, who I played with when I was with Team USA years and years ago. It was a place that I felt at home and that’s what I’ve done since I was a kid. I worked my way up through the system with the Cubs and played a bunch of minor league seasons after that. It wasn’t like I was just some circus act. I was one of them and last night everyone from my team to the Mets, they all treated me as a major leaguer and obviously Dickey the same. He pitched to me like he would any other major leaguer and I respect that as a competitor and it was awesome.
CBS Local Sports: On the documentary side of the whole thing, Matt Liston started the One At-Bat campaign without you two having never met. When you hear Matt speak or watch him in an interview, he’s so passionate about getting you the chance you deserve from seven years ago. How does it make you feel to see a guy that you don’t have any relationship with prior to all of this care this much about something that involves you?
Greenberg: That’s one thing that I really like to make clear to everyone is I didn’t have a relationship with Matt. He went out of his way just out of the sake of being a true fan of baseball and sports and imagined himself being in my shoes. That passion came through the phone that first conversation he and I had back in February when he told me what he wanted to do. Now I thought it was a crazy idea and I was like “Go ahead, knock yourself out.” I wasn’t going to stop somebody and turn their passion off. That’s exactly what it’s all about: believing in something to the core. He believed in this to the core of his being and that passion rang through to all the thousands of people that signed a petition and the work, the energy and the effort that went into making this happen. He and I had an agreement and that agreement was that I would go along with this as long as he knew that this was bigger than one at-bat. If he knew that this was more important to me to make it as a major leaguer and get that light shone upon me to see my ability on the field and hopefully continue my career as a ballplayer. He got it. He got it right from Day One. To know that he did all of this for me, it’s humbling, it’s gratifying, there aren’t enough words to express my emotions about it, but I truly have to say it’s bigger than me. I never thought it was about getting me an at-bat. It was about doing it for everyone who had a dream that was taken away from them and has ever worked hard to accomplish a goal and gotten knocked down and the ability to keep pushing and keep working and try to make the impossible possible. So that’s why this story is resonating with so many people throughout the country and even world. And to be the center point I embrace it because I’m really just having fun with it and that’s because I got a chance to express to everyone my story, who I am as a person and hopefully affect people’s lives.
CBS Local Sports: This one at-bat seems to have rejuvenated your career and outlook on the game and trying to get back to the majors for more than one at-bat. You have said you want to get back for more than just this one game, so what’s the plan and what’s the next step going forward into the 2013 season?
Greenberg: I’m going to allow Matt Liston, my new agent, to go to work and try to get me a spring training invite. Our first team is the Miami Marlins and they gave me this shot. They made this all happen. They made a dream come true. So we’re going to talk to them and hope that I can further my career with an opportunity to showcase my ability and what I can bring to the organization on the field in March. So that’s Step One. I’m going to continue to train and do all the things I need to do. I have a business that I started through all of this, and it’s been successful and it helps people. It’s changed my life and it’s afforded me the opportunity to dedicate myself back to the game. I have an amazing team of people. We’ve worked together, we have gone through the trenches and now we’re at a point where I can genuinely and legitimately put my mind and my heart and soul back into the game that I love to play and see what happens.