Ex-Tar Heel Greenberg gets second shot

It was, and most likely will remain, one of the most glorious strikeouts in MLB history.

Former North Carolina standout Adam Greenberg — seven years removed from a head injury that many said would end his professional career, and some his life — struck out on three pitches in his sole at-bat Tuesday night at Marlins Park in Miami in his return to the plate.

“It was highly emotional,” Greenberg said. “Just the energy and roar of the crowd — that electrified me, but at the same time it calmed me down.”

The Marlins signed him to a one-day contract on Sept. 27 after a fan created a “One At Bat” campaign to get Greenberg another plate appearance, and Tuesday night Greenberg pinch-hit in the bottom of the sixth inning.

He faced New York Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, a 20-game winner and Cy Young Award hopeful.

“I wasn’t even thinking about any baseball part of it,” said UNC coach Mike Fox, who coached Greenberg when he played for North Carolina from 2000 to 2002 and attended Tuesday night’s game in Miami. “There are not many who have persevered and stuck it out that long … I just wanted to be there to just share the moment with him.”

Greenberg, though, wanted a hit.

“I was up there aggressive,” Greenberg said. “I wanted to see a knuckleball and attack a fastball.”

He saw three knuckleballs.

The first went by without a swing. The second and third “took off,” and Greenberg swung at and missed both.

“I was going down swinging,” he said.

The short at-bat was a seemingly unfitting result for the seven years of toil and tenacity it took him to earn it.

The day was July 9, 2005, and the opponent, ironically, was the Marlins. Greenberg’s Chicago Cubs were playing them in Miami. He stepped to the plate in the ninth inning as a pinch-hitter for his first MLB plate appearance.

The first pitch — a 92-mph fastball from Marlins pitcher Valerio de los Santos — struck Greenberg in the back of the head. The sound of the ball hitting his helmet was audible through the television.

He fell to the ground clutching his head, and de los Santos later said that he thought Greenberg was dead.

Greenberg sustained a concussion from the pitch, and his road back to the majors was far from painless.

He suffered from vertigo and other post-concussion conditions, and he bounced around minor and independent leagues for years before playing for Team Israel in the qualifying rounds of the World Baseball Classic in September.

But the difficulties — injuries, rehab, self-doubt, navigating through the minors — never deterred him from his goal of getting back to the MLB.

“I always believed I would,” Greenberg said. “That’s why I kept playing and kept trying.”

And Fox felt the same way.

“If he made his way up there once,” Fox said, “he’ll make it again.”

The reality of the one-day contract has now set in, though, and Greenberg flew home to Connecticut on Thursday.

He had only packed one and a half weeks’ worth of clothes for a trip that lasted a month, so he said he’s looking forward to doing laundry and unwinding. For now.

He still has his sights set on another return to the majors.

“This is never a one-shot deal for me,” he said. “I have an opportunity to continue my career as a ballplayer.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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