Here comes Adam Greenberg to bat tonight in Miami, ending a weeklong scuffle between the mind and the heart, which have just held another of their patented 12-round scuffles since the announcement of this occasion, just trying to parse this oddity.
Round 1: The mind surged ahead on points, because this thing just seems so … artificial. The Marlins decided to give a major-league at-bat, as a pinch hitter, on the penultimate day of the season to a guy they technically were not calling to the major leagues. He had not thrived at Triple-A New Orleans. He had not soared at Double-A Jacksonville. He had not played the 2012 season in the minor leagues at all, but had played for Israel as it tried to qualify for the World Baseball Classic. They called him only on an emotional technicality, on a reality unthinkable but true: Some 2,642 days ago, on July 9, 2005, he had one hard-earned at-bat in the major leagues, for the Cubs, against the Marlins, on a Saturday night, in the ninth inning, and in that sole at-bat a 92-mph fastball hit him in the head, such that he could not even take first base, let alone record an official major-league at-bat.
Round 2: The mind kept going. Didn't this take a precious spot from somebody who might have earned it in 2012? Aren't there umpteen guys who have rummaged gamely around the minors without getting this day up top? But then it sort of backed off on that one, figuring it's not really a spot but just one at-bat, one moment, one show.
Round 3: But that's the problem, the mind went on. In sport, a pursuit revered for merit and all its rigidity, this decision turned not on merit but on sentiment. There was even an element of it that made you wonder if Greenberg would want to accept. Hadn't he, as an aspiring baseball player, submitted to the hard-wired merit system of it way back when he started playing at Guilford High School in Connecticut? Clearly, the heart would have to rally here.
Round 4: Instead, when Marlins president David Samson called, Greenberg cried. And cried for days every time he thought about it. Uh oh.
Round 5: The heart does yearn to not be a jerk. As the Mets’ manager Terry Collins would put it yesterday to reporters in Miami: "Well, he did make it. He was good enough to get there at one time."
Round 6: And when this one player did make it, the thing that happened remains just so strange that it still tinkers with the belief impulses. It's not an outlier; it's an outlier of an outlier. He went to bat after all that grinding to get there, he stood, Valerio de los Santos delivered, and it hit Greenberg. It made him only the second player in all who have come to bat -- with the Phillies' Fred Van Dusen in 1955 -- to have the only plate appearance become an HBP. So that's rare. But no, it came on the first pitch. That's crazy. And it came on a first pitch that pretty much debilitated Greenberg for a while, caused a concussion, even prevented him from occupying first base. That case just needs its own file, really.
Round 7: The atrocious headaches. The sleeping upright for a long stretch. The vertigo. Yet, the persistence. There's something uncommonly sturdy in this guy.
Round 8: In a conference call with reporters last week, Greenberg said this, according to the Palm Beach Post: "The interesting part for me is, while I lost control of my eyes and though my head was split open, I never truly lost consciousness. I was aware of everything that was going on. I can vividly remember the ball leaving his hand, to me turning, to actually getting struck and knowing exactly what it felt like and being scared for my life. The only thing I did, I grabbed my head … I kept saying, 'Stay alive.' I just repeated that numerous times. That'll never leave me." Can you imagine? Stay alive. Stay alive.
Round 9: So after staying alive, he scrapped on around the minors, even through his physical distress and the untold emotional challenge from knowing of just that one pitch. He dwelled in the atmospheres of the secluded: West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, Iowa Cubs, Jacksonville Suns, Wichita Wranglers, Arkansas Travelers, the independent Bridgeport Bluefish. The Cubs organization, but also the Dodgers, Royals, Angels, Reds. He even got to bat again -- and single -- against de los Santos.
Round 10: And the heart did keep making headway, and even though it cannot think, it might have been responsible for encouraging the persistence of this thought: Who knew the Marlins and Mets were still playing? OK, that's harsh, but here's one of those impertinent games that fill the exhausted portion of every season. But for burnishing the statistics such as R.A. Dickey going for 20 wins, and to give some fans something to do as they straggle out to the ballpark, you often might wonder why they play these things. Isn't this another one of those green issues, a questionable use of electricity?
Round 11: Finally, the whole thing got the mind turned, to where the mind sought a truce, and it found it this way: We have seen sport used in so many terrible ways -- for the padding of statistics and contracts and medal counts through drugs, for recruiting violations, for illegally video-taping opponents' schemes, for bounty programs, for the brazen advertising of products that aren't good for the circulatory system. Surely sport gets used here again, for a stunt, but this time also for just a moment to exhibit somebody who handled a wretched fate in an exemplary way.
Round 12: Up and down the East Coast tonight, the curious might tune in for one at-bat. In Greenberg's native Connecticut, his former employer the Bridgeport Bluefish has got its club room ready and its big-screen TVs ready, all for one at-bat, one little-big at-bat, one at-bat everyone hopes will become, you know, official. Remember to RSVP. Maybe he'll single up the middle or something. That would be a single-up-the-middle to see.