Adam Greenberg, meet R.A. Dickey, who gets what you've gone through

Chicago Cubs rookie Adam Greenberg, center, is helped

Chicago Cubs rookie Adam Greenberg, center, is helped by Cubs trainers after being hit in the helmet by the first pitch he faced in the major leagues from Florida Marlins relief pitcher Valerio Do Los Santos, in Miami. Just called up by the Cubs, he got beaned by a 92 mph fastball on the first pitch and never set foot in a big league batter's box again. (Credit: AP, 2005)

ATLANTA

Both of them arrived at the same crossroads once before.

It happened at different times and in much different ways, but the desperation was the same for R.A. Dickey and Adam Greenberg. Both had worked a lifetime to touch a dream, only to have it slip through their fingers. Neither could know if fate would give them another chance.

But on Tuesday, their paths could intersect, two men given a second chance. Dickey will start for the Mets, seeking his 21st victory of the season, and Greenberg will play for the Miami Marlins -- seven years after his major-league career apparently ended in one fateful game, on one ill-fated pitch.

Said Dickey: "What a story."

It began on July 9, 2005, when Greenberg achieved his ultimate goal, making his major-league debut as a pinch hitter for the Chicago Cubs. He never was considered a top prospect, and had fate not intervened, it's possible that Greenberg simply would have faded away.

But he never got the chance to find out.

Valerio de los Santos struck Greenberg in the helmet with a fastball. The next two years brought the curse of post-concussion symptoms. He battled just to control his own eyesight, his own sense of equilibrium, his own sense of place.

Greenberg returned to the minor leagues, then to the independent baseball circuit, including a stop with the Long Island Ducks. But his window had closed. His major-league dreams had withered.

Then documentary filmmaker Matt Liston took an interest in Greenberg's plight. It moved him to begin a campaign to get Greenberg one more at-bat in the major leagues, a push that culminated with the Marlins signing him to a one-day contract last week.

Now his one chance will come against a knuckleballer whom some believe is the leading candidate for the National League Cy Young Award. But Greenberg told reporters he doesn't mind.

"If it is him, what better way to go at this than by facing one of the best in the game," he said.

At various points in Dickey's journey from obscurity, he faced challenges similar to Greenberg's. Before he learned how to throw the knuckleball, before it led him to stardom at age 37, Dickey's major-league dreams also flickered. He considered walking away.

"I did imagine it," Dickey said. "And I didn't like what I imagined. It was sad. I'm thankful that my narrative is such that I got to do it over and do it differently."

Now Greenberg will get that same chance, thanks to a campaign that generated an outpouring of support. Mets manager Terry Collins watched Liston's video on Greenberg and came away moved by his quest for one at-bat. His reaction was in line with the thousands of fans who lent their names to a write-in campaign to make the goal a reality.

"Certainly, it's a sad story," Collins said. "But I'm anxious to certainly have the chance to wish him luck, tell him that we all support his charge back to try to become a major-league player again. It's again a sad case. But I tell you what, he obviously had some great skills because there's a lot of guys that didn't get one at-bat, for lots of reasons."

That is Greenberg's point when critics dismiss his return as a publicity stunt. In a conference call with reporters Thursday, he made it clear that he'd earned his chance seven years ago, no different from the other chosen few who have reached the big leagues.

"This was never a gimmick," he said. "I got to the major leagues on my own merit. I worked up through the ranks as a little kid and all the way up. I earned that spot seven years ago."

On Tuesday, he'll finally get his chance to make it count.

Said Collins: "I know our guys will be on the top step clapping for him when he gets in the batter's box."

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