Friday, May 18, 2012

Second Chances

Rich Thompson was a pinch runner for the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night. This, in and of itself, isn’t exactly noteworthy. Pinch runners are a fairly routine aspect of baseball. The manager decides he needs someone fast on the bases, so he sends someone in to replace the guy on base.

Making it somewhat noteworthy is that Thompson was making his season debut for the Rays. Again, this is fairly common as players are called up from the minor leagues all the time to replace an injured player or to fill in for a struggling veteran. So making your season debut in the middle of May isn’t really anything to write home about.

Unless you’re Thompson.

Thompson last played in the major leagues in 2004. He had exactly one at-bat during his time in the Big Leagues. It wasn’t exactly the stuff legends are made of. He grounded into a double play off a guy who normally plays catcher but was pitching because the game was a blow out. For the next eight years, he toiled in the minor leagues riding buses from Lehigh Valley to Indianapolis, playing with prospects who would go on to play on the biggest stage or alongside aging veterans who were trying to hang on for one last shot in the Majors.

Thompson was fortunate (due, in large part, to his willingness to keep playing when others would have quit long ago.) He got a second shot. The same could not be said for Adam Greenberg.

When I first heard of Thompson’s story, I immediately thought of Greenberg. He was a 9th round selection of the Cubs in 2002 from UNC-Chapel Hill who made his major league debut on July 9, 2005 against the Florida Marlins. In the 9th inning, Greenberg was substituted in as a pinch hitter and to make his major league debut.

Years of playing catch in the back yard, batting cages, little league games, high school, college and three years in the minor leagues and finally, Greenberg had reached the pinnacle of his profession as a major league baseball player.  

It didn’t last long.

On the first pitch he saw, he was struck in the head by a 92 mile per hour fastball resulting in a concussion. He was removed from the game and sent back to the minor leagues to rehab. Sadly for Greenberg,  the effects of the concussion were so bad that he had to sleep sitting up and would get dizzy just bending down to tie his shoe.  He was released by the Cubs a year later and was signed and then released by the Dodgers, Royals, and Angels. He never again played a Major League game.

Greenberg is one of only two players in baseball history to be hit by a pitch in his only major league plate appearance and never take the field. (Fred Van Dusen of the 1955 Phillies was the other, but I wasn’t watching that game, so I’m not writing about him.) Every now and again, especially when I hear a story like Thompson’s, I wonder what happened to Greenberg. Maybe when they remake “Field of Dreams” in 75 years, they’ll replace Moonlight Graham with Adam Greenberg. 

I didn't get to cheer for Greenberg long. Hopefully I'll get to cheer for Thompson a bit longer.

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