The first time Adam Greenberg got to the plate in a Major League Baseball game he didnt get a chance to hit the ball before the ball hit him.
Seven years later, he got another chance as a member of the team he opposed when he was knocked to the dirt by a wild pitch to the head.
UNC standout Greenberg was a Miami Marlin for one day. His big-league debut redux lasted just 33 seconds and ended after three consecutive strikes, one looking, the next two swinging at R.A. Dickeys deceptive 75-80 mph knuckleball that floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee.
The record book will show Greenberg was a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the sixth inning Tuesday in the Marlins 4-3 victory over the Mets. That was it. He did not take the field.
Yet he got the one at-bat he was denied on July 9, 2005, when Marlins reliever Valerio de los Santos beaned the 24-year-old Chicago Cub in the back of the helmet with a 92-mph fastball that devastated the careers of both batter and pitcher.
His appearance in the Marlins penultimate game was the proverbial cup of coffee for a player who has toiled in the minor leagues since 2002.
But for Greenberg it was the realization of a dream deferred. It was his sip of champagne. He couldnt stop smiling, and the dimples on his All-American face deepened even after he struck out and returned to the dugout to a standing ovation from fans and high fives from his temporary teammates.
In the stacks of baseball statistics, Greenberg is a footnote, perhaps. But no longer the answer to a trivia question.
His heartbreaking, heartwarming story reached nadir and apex in South Florida.
Greenberg, 31, is determined not to see it end. He is no Eddie Gaedel, the dwarf inserted in a 1951 game by ringmaster Bill Veeck. Greenberg considered his one-day contract an audition for spring training 2013. He would like to receive an invitation from the Marlins.
I want to show what I can do and you cant do that in one at-bat in baseball, especially against a pitcher like Dickey, he said. Im not out there as a sideshow. Hopefully, this is the start of Part II of my career.
Greenberg got to wear No. 10, his old Cubs number, on the back of his white Marlins jersey, accompanied by orange spikes.
He got to take batting practice as curious players and coaches from both teams stood transfixed around the cage and appraised his form. On his last cut, he hit a rising line drive that nipped the right-field wall and dropped over into the stands for a home run.
He got to be feted as a rookie by his teammates, who made him sing and dance in the clubhouse as part of his indoctrination into the brotherhood.
He got to place cap over heart during the national anthem and hear Take Me Out to the Ballgame echo off the massive dome of the new stadium.
He got to bat against a Cy Young Award contender.
He got to play in front of his parents, his four siblings, his wife about 100 relatives and friends.
He got to watch the Marlins Park center field sculpture leap to life when Gorkys Fernandez and Rob Brantly hit home runs. (He also got to watch Heath Bell blow his eighth save of the season by squandering a 3-0 lead in the eighth.)
He got to be the first player to hustle out and congratulate Donovan Solano for his game-winning hit.
In fact, he was the star of The Show he had always aspired to. Hes spent the past three days doing TV interviews.
He was swarmed by photographers and followed by cameramen collecting footage for a documentary being made by Matt Liston, the young filmmaker and Cubs fan who started the whole One-At-Bat campaign seven months ago and launched a website to petition Commissioner Bud Selig on Greenbergs behalf. Greenberg credited social media and the power of the people for his opportunity.
Its an underdog story and everyone can grab on and relate to it, said Greenbergs father, Mark. Adam has worked so hard for so many years. He never gave up.
Hes the talk of his hometown, Guilford, Conn.
Hes become a folk hero flooded by emails and letters from people inspired by his perseverance.
Kids are doing school reports, sending pictures, Greenberg said. Its not about playing baseball. Its I can be a doctor!