09/22/12 5:03 PM ET
Israel's Greenberg gets second chance at game
By Adam Berry / MLB.com
Greenberg would have been a special assistant to manager Brad Ausmus, helping out Israel's first World Baseball Classic team however he could. He would have been the 29th man on a 28-man roster, once again coming up just short. He wouldn't have considered this to be another chance for him to realize the Major League dream he's been chasing all his life.
Instead, as fate would have it, former Major Leaguer Gabe Kapler removed himself from Israel's roster with a groin injury and traveled to Jupiter, Fla., only as the team's bench coach. Greenberg had a spot. The injury would have prevented Kapler from playing, but Kapler admitted he thought about the fact that Greenberg would take his place.
"I see it as serendipitous, absolutely," Kapler said. "I feel like it's magic for him to have this opportunity. I'm thrilled for him."
Greenberg's role as a late-inning defensive replacement isn't going to allow him many opportunities for exposure, the kind that might help him impress the scouts at Roger Dean Stadium. He appeared in each of Israel's first two games, but, in keeping with his history, hasn't had an official at-bat. He drew a walk in one plate appearance and scored a run.
But Greenberg's been relentlessly positive about this experience, as he has been about everything that's happened since he was hit in the head by the only pitch he saw as a Major Leaguer on July 9, 2005. He's overcome that freak injury, gotten over being released from camp on the final day two years in a row, come back from shoulder surgery and forced his way into what he believes to be another golden opportunity.
"It's pretty awesome. There's not many other words to describe it," Greenberg said. "I made it partly because something happened, but partly because I earned it. That [is something] I can hold my hat on and feel proud about, not just, 'Hey, there was publicity and it's a good thing because people want to talk to me.' I genuinely proved it on the field and, knowing me as a coaching staff and an organization, they believed I could help and contribute."
Peter Kurz, the secretary general of the Israel Association of Baseball, admitted he was worried about the publicity angle. Greenberg has a compelling story, and he's drawn even more attention from the media lately thanks to the "One At-Bat" campaign started by fans, and the petition signed by more than 20,000 people. Considering the work Kurz and countless others have put into making this Israeli team a reality, it might seem unfair if a reserve outfielder was the focus of all the press coverage.
But after meeting Greenberg and seeing his passion for the game and his willingness to play whatever role he's asked to fill, Kurz saw the truth. It wasn't a gimmick. It wasn't an act. Greenberg really does want one more chance, and he'll do anything to earn it.
"I certainly admire his passion," Ausmus said. "He has a love for the game, and he's working very hard here. But you also have a little extra space in your heart hoping that he can somehow use this as a springboard to get back into baseball and climb his way back into the Major Leagues so he gets another chance."
Greenberg kept working out but spent the past year away from baseball. He had been playing in the independent Atlantic League each year since 2008 and figured he'd do so again this season, but he got some advice from "a trusted friend of mine" -- Dusty Baker, who told Greenberg to never play in the independent leagues again.
Greenberg doesn't think he's above doing so, but Baker stressed the importance of Greenberg getting his life together first.
"Taking his advice, that's what I did. And I'm glad, because I have a better perspective on things as a whole," Greenberg said. "Now, I can really get back to how I played when I was younger and played before this whole mess happened. Just for fun, you know, because I love it."
Greenberg started a company, LuRong Living. The product is better known as "Deer Velvet Antler" in America, according to the company's web site, and Greenberg said the company is designed to educate people about health and nutrition. He speaks about his company the same way he speaks about baseball, with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm, and it's obvious from talking to him that Baker's advice resonated with Greenberg.
"I always said I want to play the game because I loved it when I was young, and I want to continue playing because I love it," Greenberg said. "I didn't start for money, and I didn't want to quit for money. It was a great year off, but now, I'm refocused and just hopeful that this is the start and that there'll be an opportunity coming after."
And he couldn't pass up the opportunity to join Team Israel, to give himself another chance. And to think -- none of it might have happened if not for Baker's advice, Greenberg's passion and an unfortunate, albeit conveniently timed, Kapler groin injury.
"So, yeah, it's fate, maybe God's hand in this situation," Kurz said.