Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Jeffrey Loria has history of kindness
By Doug Glanville ESPN.com
Adam Greenberg is going to make it back to the major leagues, and how it happened is something I understand very well.
In 2000, my father had a major stroke on the last day of spring training. Soon it became public knowledge this was the "personal" reason that contributed to my distraction on the field. It actually cost my team, the Philadelphia Phillies, a game early in the year against the Arizona Diamondbacks when I forgot how many outs there were and on a routine fly ball that I caught, I put my head down and headed for the dugout. Steve Finley proceeded to tag up from second base on the play to score what turned out to be the winning run.
Adam Greenberg had one at-bat while playing for the Cubs in 2005.
At that time, I heard advice from a lot of people who had experienced loss and challenges in the midst of a career, but one came from a surprising source.
I had never met Jeffrey Loria. I only knew him in the context of our discussions at meetings for the Major League Baseball Players Association. He was just another name on the other side of the negotiating table or conference call. I knew him in the context of understanding the mindset of the various owners in Major League Baseball. I knew he was an art dealer from New York who was running the Montreal Expos, and that the Expos were struggling on and off of the field.
One day when I was with the Phillies and we were about to play the Expos, I received a message in the locker room. The owner of the Expos wanted to speak with me. I said, "Speak to me? Is that even legal?"
So I walked down the long tunnel of the home locker room of Veterans Stadium into our dugout. Shortly thereafter, Loria walked across from the Expos dugout to speak with me.
He said, "I know I am not supposed to do this, but I read about the situation with your father and I feel for you."
He went on to say that his mother went through a similar decline and left me with these parting words about how to handle my father's illness.
"Whatever you are doing, you are doing the right thing. You have to know that."
I thought about it, and I came to understand the importance of what he was saying. It hit home because I was living in the moments where I felt powerless and distracted, where the worst approach you can take is to constantly have doubt about what to do and what little influence you have to control the uncontrollable.
Keep in mind I was exercising options in my head ever since my father's first major stroke. In the end, I spent three years of my major league career trying to figure out how to handle it and be productive on the field. The constant tango between should-haves, could-haves, and would-haves was weighing on me every single day. Should I leave the team to stay with my mother for a few days to help her? Could I find a super doctor who can make this go away? Would my father get healthier if I were around more? A tall order when you are in the midst of 162 games in 180 days while constantly crisscrossing the country.
Loria's point reverberated in more ways than through the torment of a son seeing his father slip through his fingers, but in a truth that applied to the game: the many times that second guessing is part of the game's culture. What pitch to throw, whether you should steal that base or take that free-agent offer is a daily debate, so much so that you begin to not know much of anything for sure. It would turn out that certainty only comes when it is premeditated. That your faith in your decision comes before the decision is made, you have to know that or you will sink.
So when I read that Loria was offering Greenberg a chance to have another at-bat so that he could change the music of his baseball experience, I was moved. It brought me back to that moment more than 10 years ago when Loria approached me -- a complete stranger -- with help.
Greenberg is trying to return from a seemingly impossible story. His first and only major league plate appearance in 2005 resulted in his getting hit in the head with a pitch. Later side effects inhibited his ability to be at his best. He went on to struggle in the minor leagues and various other leagues, still feeling the effects of that at-bat.
This season, he declared himself ready to attempt another full-scale comeback at the still relatively young age of 31. The odds were against him so much because a lot of time has passed since his injury, given the measuring sticks that often govern opportunity.
Yet he persevered to the point where Loria took notice.
On Tuesday, Greenberg will be a Miami Marlin, the organization that knocked him off his dream track in the first place with that one pitch (on July 9, 2005, Greenberg was hit in the back of the head by Marlins left-hander Valerio De Los Santos' pitch). To this point, he was seen as the modern day Moonlight Graham, the real figure from "Field of Dreams" who made only one appearance in a major league game, enough to appear in "The Baseball Encyclopedia," enough to say he made it, but not enough to feel like the dream had even started.
It would appear that Loria is also in the business of making dreams come true, and I can say from personal experience that he helped me. Loria had nothing to gain, and had nothing at stake in the matter. He simply spoke with me back in 2000 out of kindness, and it was a conversation and a gift I have never forgotten. I get the feeling Adam Greenberg will feel the same way.