Wednesday was the last day of the Major League Baseball regular season, meaning excitement and drama for a handful of teams and a final curtain for the rest. The New York Mets and Miami Marlins fit into the latter category, two teams whose playoff hopes were dashed months ago. But on their Tuesday night match-up in Miami was anything but meaningless for Adam Greenberg.
For those unfamiliar with his story, Greenberg made his major league debut on July 9, 2005 as 24-year-old for the Chicago Cubs. After working his way through the minor leagues, his dream had been realized. After one pitch, his dream was derailed. A fastball from the Marlins’ pitcher drilled Greenberg in the back of the helmet, sending the helmet flying and Greenberg to the ground. “I grabbed my head instantly because I really felt like I was holding it together,” Greenberg says in documentary film maker Matt Liston’s “One At Bat” campaign video, which appears as part of a Change.org petition.
Greenberg sustained a concussion, one that had lasting effects for years. He worked hard to return to the big leagues, but never made it back—until Tuesday. Liston’s campaign focused on the Cubs, but when they passed on the idea, the Marlins—the team whose pitcher hit Greenberg seven years ago—signed him to a one-day contract.
Greenberg finally got his first at-bat (when you are hit by a pitch, it only counts as a “plate appearance”) on Tuesday night. He struck out, but that was beside the point. (Also, it should be noted that Greenberg had to face the Mets’ R.A. Dickey, who leads the league in strikeouts; no easy task for any hitter this season.) Adding to the feel-good story is the fact that Greenberg donated his one-day salary to the Sports Legacy Institute, whose mission is to “advance the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups.”
As a sportswriter says in Liston’s video, when Greenberg was hit in the head, it was “before concussions became a major story in sports. Back then, no one really thought twice about a concussion.” Things have certainly changed for the better in that respect. Within hours of the suicide of ex-football player Junior Seau in May, many were asking which brain bank would search for signs of damage. When Greenberg made his debut, how many people even knew such an option existed?
Sports, particularly football, still have a long way to go before concussions are no longer a serious concern. But the culture surrounding head injuries has changed for the better since Greenberg made his major league debut. At the very least, the effects of sports-related head injuries are part of the mainstream discussion. Researchers are working on better treatments and, more importantly, preventative measures. Who knows, maybe seven years from now a player will get hit in the helmet and simply walk to first base.