The Marlins have found a way to bring a smile to the faces of frustrated fans and lighten the glum mood at the ballpark next week as the season that ended weeks ago comes to an official close.
In the process, they may find a player who can hit.
They may find a player who can score.
They may find a player who can reanimate folded arms into clapping hands.
If Adam Greenberg gets on base Tuesday — or even if he doesn’t — please let him keep wearing a Marlins uniform. This team needs a lovable hero.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is finally doing something right by signing Greenberg to a one-day contract for Tuesday’s game against the Mets. He’s giving Greenberg another chance seven years after Greenberg’s major-league career began and ended with one horrific moment in the batter’s box.
Greenberg, then 24, was called up by the Chicago Cubs and told to get on the next plane to Miami. On July 9, 2005, he made his major-league debut as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning. On the first pitch by Marlins reliever Valerio de los Santos, Greenberg was struck in the back of the head as he turned to avoid the ball.
He collapsed, holding his head, because he said the 92-mph fastball felt like it had split open his skull. His eyes rolled back in his head. His parents, who had flown in from Connecticut, watched as their son’s lifelong ambition turned into a life-threatening emergency.
“The sound, the way he went down — the first thing that went through your mind was, ‘This guy is dead,’ ” said de los Santos.
Greenberg was helped off the field and taken to a hospital. De los Santos called to check on him and apologize. The trauma to Greenberg’s brain lingered. He couldn’t sleep upright, couldn’t bend down to tie his shoes without losing his balance. He suffered from vicious headaches, nausea, double vision, dizziness.
Back in the minors, when a ground ball was hit to him, “it started snaking my eyes were shifting from side to side.” He was diagnosed with vertigo. The symptoms cleared and he later signed with the Royals and Angels and vowed he would return to the majors.
“There is no ‘don’t,’ ” he said. “I’m going to get back.”
But he never did. Until now. A couple weeks after playing for Israel in the World Baseball Classic at the Marlins’ spring training facility in Jupiter, Greenberg will be a major-league player again. For at least one night. The plan is for him to be credited for an at-bat, which a player does not receive when he is hit by a pitch. Fred Van Dusen, an 18-year-old with the 1955 Phillies, is the only other player in major-league history to be hit by a pitch in his only plate appearance without ever taking the field.
“It’s a dream come true, part two,” said Greenberg, 31. “To have it come full circle with them [the Marlins] — it’s just so gratifying, rewarding and special.”
Greenberg, who was all-ACC at North Carolina and a ninth-round pick of the Cubs, does not want to be thought of as a sympathy case or a gimmick.
“Dude can play,” Marlins outfielder Justin Ruggiano tweeted when he heard his 2006 Jacksonville Suns teammate would be in the dugout.
“He has earned this chance as his love and passion for the game never diminished, despite his career tragically being cut short,” Loria said in a statement.
Greenberg was making a couple thousand dollars a month in the minors until he took this season off to start a nutritional business. He will donate the minimum piece of salary he’s paid Tuesday (about $3,000) to the Marlins Foundation, which will in turn donate to the Sports Legacy Institute, a leader in brain trauma research and prevention.
Greenberg’s story has been championed by filmmaker and Cubs fan Matt Liston, who started the website oneatbat.com and collected 25,000 signatures on a petition to commissioner Bud Selig.
Greenberg is scheduled to face Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
While many Marlins fans are grumbling that Loria’s goodwill gesture is a diversionary tactic to shunt away enmity as an awful season concludes, at least the Marlins and Mets were bad enough to give Greenberg his opportunity.
As for de los Santos, he was sent down within a month of that pitch. He has bounced around since, and wound up last season with the independent Long Island Ducks, a team with a website that quacks.
Greenberg was playing for the Bridgeport Blue Fish.
They met again as minor-leaguers making one last stab at a return to the Show, de los Santos on the mound, Greenberg at the plate. On April 29, 2011, Greenberg singled, calling it the biggest hit of his career. He went hitless in his next seven at-bats against de los Santos, 39, who seems to have last pitched for the Rieleros (Railway Workers) of Aguascalientes in the Mexican League.
De los Santos was never the same after beaning Greenberg. He never returned to the majors, either. It would be nice to see him at Marlins Park on Tuesday. He said no one would be happier than him if Greenberg made it back.