Everyone remembers where they were for the major moments in life.
JFK, the Challenger, 9/11 — if you were alive, you’ve got a story.
Me, I remember where I was for moments that are considerably less important but still resonate nevertheless. And one of those moments has always been Adam Greenberg’s lone Major League plate appearance.
It was the final weekend before the 2005 All-Star Break, and the Cubs season was starting to trickle in a disappointing direction. But with the Cubs every season includes a false hope revival, and in ’05 it was delivered with a pair of rookies called up for the series with the Marlins — Greenberg and Matt Murton. Maybe these young guys would add some juice to Dusty Baker’s aging squad, get the team back over .500 and into the heart of the Wild Card race. (Really, Cub fans think this way).
That Saturday game was on in our newsroom, in part because nothing else is going on in sports right before the All-Star Break, but also because we were eager to see how these highly touted new Cubs would fare in their debuts.
It was the top of the ninth when Greenberg got his turn, pinch-hitting for Will Ohman, who had just turned in the best outing of his career by retiring a batter without allowing anyone to reach base.
In a flash, he was crumpled in a heap, hit in the head by the first pitch from Marlins reliever Valerio De Los Santos.
I was standing in the area between my desk and the news desk.
“My God! That’s going to be the only at-bat of his career!” was my immediate response. “And it’s not even an official at-bat. Hell, it’s gonna be the only PITCH he ever faces!”
My colleague Fat Todd was the first who added “Just like Moonlight Graham.” He probably also said “That’s kind of cool” or something to that effect, because he’s the type of person who first responds to oddities and things that are cool rather than someone lying on the ground after getting beaned in the head.
Of course there was no way of actually knowing how seriously Greenberg was hurt. For all we could tell, he might have been ready to go the next day, or maybe 15. But whatever it was — Cub fan intuition or something like that — I just knew that was it for Adam Greenberg’s big-league career. I was never more certain of anything.
For seven years, I was right. Then came Tuesday night.
Though it may not have been for the right reasons, the publicity-starved Marlins did the right thing by signing Greenberg and giving him another shot at a big league at-bat against the Mets in a game between two teams playing out the string. There are those who will maintain the whole thing is a sham robbing an at-bat from some more deserving prospect, but that’s a bunch of bunk. Nobody in Miami’s future plans is going to get only a single September at-bat. And it’s not like the guy never earned the right to be a big leaguer. He did, and it was snatched away in an instant and never recovered due to the lingering after-effects.
Of course, it was just Greenberg’s luck that the first big-league pitcher he faced in seven years was knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, though there was some cosmic righteousness to the fact baseball’s two most unlikely individual comeback stories of 2012 were facing one another.
Sure, Greenberg struck out on three pitches, bringing his career on-base percentage below the 1.000 mark set by fellow one plate appearance wonder Eddie Gaedel and a few others over the years. But he got something very few of us are fortunate enough to have in life — closure. And that’s a moment he will never forget.
BONUS TRIVIA FUN: The player that pinch-ran for Greenberg? Current Marlins teammate Carlos Zambrano. Yeah, that Carlos Zambran0 — who scored from first on a double by Todd Walker. Life is weird, man.