TRUE HEROES THAT DRIVE US TO BE GREAT
A white dot, spinning with flashes of red, came hurtling at him without any idea of where it was heading. A mere sixty feet and six inches was all it needed to fly to overshadow the miles he had traveled in pursuit of one dream. Just about a half of a second was all this fastball needed to cancel out the hours he had spent training and preparing for one moment. And if in that split second Adam Greenberg’s life flashed before his eyes, what would he have seen?
0.1 seconds: Valerio de los Santos whips his left arm from a three-quarters position. Two fingers placed perpendicular to the red seams. It’s a fastball.
Growing up in Guilford, Connecticut, Adam Greenberg was never short on aspirations. He was a three-time all-state selection in soccer and a four-time all-state selection in baseball, the first person in Connecticut history to achieve all-state honors 4 years in a row.
0.2 seconds: Shift weight to my back leg. Load my hands.
After a brilliant prep career, Greenberg attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to play baseball for one of the most highly regarded programs in the country. On the heels of yet another stand-out campaign, Greenberg was eligible for the MLB First-Year Player Draft after his junior year. In other words, the time had finally come for the most important phone call of his life to that point. The phone rang. Quickly. The Chicago Cubs selected Adam Greenberg in the 9th round of the 2002 MLB Draft.
0.3 seconds: This one is starting inside. Is it a cutter? Keep my hands back, wait and see…
For the first time in his baseball career, Greenberg struggled in his debut season in the Minor Leagues with the Cubs’ Single-A squad, the Lansing Lugnuts. While tying for third in the League during 2004 with 14 triples as a member of the Double AA West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, Greenberg was being viewed as an average prospect with a very low ceiling at the major league level.
During the first half of the 2005 season, the Chicago Cubs had all the makings of an average ballclub. They were hovering around .500 and found themselves in the middle of a 7 game losing streak at the end of June. General Manager Jim Hendry knew that, while the baseball season is the longest of any professional sport, he needed to make changes in a clubhouse that was currently void of any positive energy. The Cubs had a star prospect, Felix Pie, biding his time in the Minor Leagues until he was given a shot with the big boys. But he had recently suffered an injury to his ankle that would prevent him from taking the field for a few days let alone make an impact on a professional stage. There wasn’t much else at the Triple AAA level that Hendry wanted to mess around with so he called up his Double AA club in West Tennessee.
0.4 seconds: It’s staying inside. It’s not cutting. Get the bat down, this one is coming in high.
On July 7th, 2005, Adam Greenberg took the first step in realizing the dream that is commonplace among millions of young boys and girls around the world when he was called up to play for the Chicago Cubs. But for Adam, it wasn’t enough to simply look around a clubhouse and see future Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux or put the famous Cubs jersey to sit on the bench. He wanted the real dream.
2 days later, the Cubs took the field against the Florida Marlins on a Sunday night in Miami, FL. After a brilliant pitching effort from Kerry Wood, the Cubs were up 4-2 going into the 9th inning. Manager Dusty Baker needed someone to pinch-hit for his reliever, Will Ohman, before he sent out his closer in the bottom half of the inning. Looking down his bench, he would shout to Greenberg to grab a bat. It was time. Adam Greenberg strolled to the plate that Sunday night, hopes and dreams running through his mind as his nerves began firing in every fiber of his body. Just take that first pitch, he probably thought, and those nerves will be gone. Adam Greenberg didn’t know just how true that thought would prove to be.
0.5 seconds: Silence. Searing pain. Emptiness.
It took Adam Greenberg twenty four years and one hundred thirty eight days of relentless preparation and practice to reach the pinnacle of his lifelong dream. It took half a second for it, literally and figuratively, to come crashing to the ground.
The baseball crashed into the back of Greenberg’s helmet like a wrecking ball seeking destruction. Holding his head, dazed with a blank look smeared across his face, Adam Greenberg was helped off the field by the Cubs training staff. He could not realize that he was on a professional baseball field in that moment, much less the fact that it would potentially be the last time he would ever step foot on one.
In a world full of stories about people who never got the opportunity they deserved, Adam Greenberg knew that the likelihood of a second opportunity wasn’t too high on the probability chart. But after working his whole life for one goal, the question wasn’t whether it was worth continuing to fight…it was whether it was worth giving up. The simple answer to that question is no. No, it wasn’t worth giving up on the countless hours he spent in the batting cage. No, it wasn’t worth giving up on the days he spent giving 100% effort in front of 100 fans in the Minor Leagues. No. No way was it worth giving up on continuing this journey just because he stumbled once.
He spent the next 6 years playing in the Minor Leagues and semi-professional leagues while suffering from post-concussion symptoms such as severe headaches and vertigo. But then, in 2012, after an incredible petition by a loyal Cubs fan, Adam Greenberg was given a second chance to realize his dream. The Miami Marlins signed Greenberg to a one-day contract to play in their October 2nd game against the New York Mets. As if his path back to his dream wasn’t difficult enough, Greenberg would step to the plate against the eventual NL Cy Young Award Winner, R.A Dickey. As he stood in the batters box, staring down sixty feet, six inches, Adam Greenberg went about this at-bat like the thousands he had before. That first pitch, a knuckleball, took longer than a half of a second to reach the plate. It gave Adam Greenberg a little extra time to consider the new, beautiful parts of his life that would flash before his eyes.
Dreams are not easy. No one ever said they were. But those same people who tell you that dreams aren’t easy, are probably talking about the journey to the dream. If you realize that chasing your dream requires unwavering focus and tireless effort, then you are well on your way in the right direction. But stop for a moment and ask yourself: if all this effort was somehow wiped away, are you passionate enough about your dream that you would do it all over again?
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