Adam Greenberg looks on during the national anthems of Israel and the U.S.
Photos by Ron Kaplan
July 2, 2009
When Adam Greenberg stepped up to the plate for his Major League debut on July 9, 2005, there was no way anyone could know it might also be his last at-bat.
Greenberg, then a member of the Chicago Cubs, was hit in the head by the first pitch thrown to him, sustaining a serious concussion and lingering health issues. After the Cubs released him, he was signed by several organizations, but never made it back to the bigs.
He has been fighting his way ever since. These days, he’s still plugging away as a member of the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League, based just a short drive from his family’s home in Guilford, Conn. Greenberg — a five-foot-nine, 180 pound centerfielder — had played in 52 of the Bluefish’s 55 games and led the team in hits, runs scored, and stolen bases.
Greenberg was in the neighborhood on June 25, when his team took on the Newark Bears on Jewish Heritage Night; Greenberg told NJ Jewish News in a pre-game interview that the timing was probably just a coincidence.
Jewish baseball fans kvell over the handful of “MOT” — members of the tribe — currently in the Majors. Some players are uncomfortable being in such a spotlight, but Greenberg welcomes the challenge.
“I think ‘burden’ is the farthest thing from my mind,” he said. “One of the motivators and exciting things that drives me is [the fact that] there are only 12 players right now. I have my own internal drive for personal reasons. It’s something I’ve gone after my whole life and something I want to do for myself, but I also want to do it for my friends and family and the Jewish community, for sure.”
He said he appreciated the support he had received from Jewish fans. “It’s had an extra special meaning for me to be a part of that,” he said.
Greenberg, 28, and his four siblings all attended religious school and had b’nei mitzva growing up in Connecticut, where the family still gathers to celebrate holidays.
Looking back on the injury that ultimately landed him in Newark on this afternoon, Greenberg realizes how lucky he is. In 1920 — long before the use of batting helmets — Ray Chapman, an infielder with the Cleveland Indians, was killed when he was hit in the head by a pitch. Two years ago, Mike Coolbaugh, a first base coach with the minor league Tulsa Drillers, was killed when he was hit in the head with a foul ball line drive.
Cantor Meredith Greenberg of Temple Ner Tamid, Bloomfield, performs “Hatikva” prior to the Newark Bears game on Jewish Heritage Night.
“Very lucky….It’s obviously tragic what happened to Mike. The same thing could have happened to me, there’s no question. There was somebody looking out for me and making sure I made it out okay.”
Independent teams are unaffiliated with organized ball. Between the Bears and the Bluefish, there were 23 former Major Leaguers on the rosters, including Greenberg, pulling down a maximum of $3,000 a month. Some have had long careers and want to keep playing. Others, like Greenberg, are hoping for one more chance. The odds are long, but he said he would keep at it “as long as I feel like I can still play at a [high] level, and as long as I enjoy it. The second I stop enjoying coming to the park and playing this game, it’s time to give it up.”
According to Jesse Suskin, the Bears’ vice president for media relations, JCC of MetroWest and Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union, West Orange, each bought about 100 tickets for Jewish Heritage Night. Activities included Jewish Bingo (“B-Dreidel, O-White star of David”); a search for the afikoman (in this case, tickets to future games hidden under the seats); and Jewish baseball trivia. Cantor Meredith Greenberg of Temple Ner Tamid, Bloomfield (and no relation to the ballplayer), performed the national anthems of Israel and the United States as Boy Scout and Wolf Pack Troop 118 presented the colors.
Greenberg didn’t disappoint: He had one hit in four at bats and was nipped at first on a close play. But the highlight came when he started a double play by catching a ball in centerfield and gunning down the Bears’ base runner trying to score from third.
In an interview for The New York Times Magazine in 2007, Greenberg’s mother, Wendy, produced her son’s card from the Jewish Major Leaguers set and predicted his eventual return. “I believe he is absolutely meant to play major-league baseball,” she told the Times. “They didn’t make a Jewish baseball card for nothing.”