It was July 9th, 2005.  A Sunday night; an ESPN nationally televised game between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins.

It was the top of the eighth inning.  A big lefty pitcher was on the mound for the Florida Marlins.  Rookie Adam Greenberg, just called up to the majors by the Cubs two days before, was called to pinch hit.

As Greenberg stepped into the batter’s box, the rookie’s mom and dad were in the stands behind the backstop, soaking in the milestone in their son’s career.

Hard work and persistence does pay off!  Dreams do come true!

Greenberg crouched in the batter’s box, stared out at the lefty pitcher, ready to receive the first pitch of his first at bat in the big leagues.

He has been waiting to see his second major league pitch for over seven years… for he was hit in the head with that first pitch of his first at bat in the major leagues.

His waiting ended last week.

*     *     *     *     *

The one and only pitch on that July Sunday night in 2005 was a 92 mile-per-hour fastball that hit him in the back of the head.  Greenberg was immediately removed from the game.

For weeks, he had to sleep upright, the only way to tolerate the headaches.  He was also suffering from positional vertigo.

After a few weeks of rehab he returned to the minor leagues with the intention of rejoining the big-league organization in short order.  But playing a couple of games made Greenberg realize that there was more healing needed.

He spent year after year meandering in the minor leagues, performing marginally, with numbers not up to major league level.

Last year, in an otherwise nondescript minor league game, Greenberg stepped into the batters box, but this time it was to once again face the same pitcher that had hit him in the head that Sunday evening so many years ago.

(That pitcher, Valerio de los Santos, had seen his own career derailed by that one pitch.  Since that night, he’d been incapable of throwing inside to batters.  Not having that formidable pitcher’s threat of a fast ball inside to unnerve opposing hitters, they were fearlessly digging in and taking advantage.)

This time, Greenberg took advantage, and stroked a base hit.  Greenberg said:

It was a big deal. As much as I might try to pretend it wasn’t. It’s been five and a half years, and to face him again in a game that meant something and get the result, to get a hit off him, it was a special moment. It brings things full-circle. You have the what-if stuff, ‘what if he threw that first pitch for a strike five and a half years ago?’ The fact is, it happened.

He faced de Los Santos seven more times that season, going 0 for 7.

*     *     *     *     *

It’s now October, 2012.

Earlier this year a Chicago Cubs fan started an online petition to get Greenberg his first official Major League at bat.  Very recently, the now Miami Marlins offered Greenberg a one-day contract to play in their October 2nd home game against the New York Mets.

(The contract was worth $2,623, which will be donated to an organization that researches brain trauma in athletes.)

Greenberg led off the bottom of the sixth inning, again, pinch hitting.  The Aerosmith song “Dream On” was piped through the stadium’s sound system as Greenberg walked to home plate.  The crowd gave him a standing ovation. 

Hard work and persistence does pay off!  Dreams do come true!

He struck out, on three pitches.  The crowd continued to cheer as he walked back to the dugout.

Greenberg said after the game,

It was magical. The energy that was in the stadium was something that I have never experienced in my life, and I don’t know if I’ll ever experience that again.

He hopes he will be invited to a team’s spring training in 2013; ideally, the Marlins.

Topps, the baseball card company, will reportedly be making a Greenberg baseball card for their 2013 series.

*     *     *     *     *

I shed a tear or two as I was writing this post.  I literally grew up playing baseball, with brothers older and younger teaching, coaching, encouraging, and challenging (not to mention mom, dad, and sis supporting in various ways).

I was not that talented; certainly was never a prospect.  If there ever was a dream of being a major league baseball player, it was fleeting.

I was — am — one of the countless millions that live vicariously through our professional athletes.

But I don’t think you have to be a once-aspiring baseball player or even a baseball fan to be touched by Adam Greenberg’s story.

And there’s lots of touching aspects in his story: his tremendous attitude.  The struggle of the pitcher who delivered the ill-fated pitch.  The Cub fan who cared enough to start the petition.  The Miami Marlins, who cared enough to give him another shot.  The one-day salary donation to medical research.  The Topps Company printing a real honest to goodness Adam Greenberg baseball card.

Mostly, though, I just find it heartbreaking.

At least for now.

‘Til next year …

This post draws significantly from Adam Greenberg Dreams of Making It Back to the Majors by Jonathan Eig as well as Wikipedia.