Adam Greenberg and 3 Other Heartwarming Prospect Comeback Stories

Mike RosenbaumMLB Prospects Lead WriterSeptember 30, 2012

MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 25:  Adam Greenberg #66 of the Chicago Cubs poses during Spring Training Photo Day at Fitch Park on February 25, 2005 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Sitting in my friend’s basement on July 9, 2005, watching the Chicago Cubs play the then-Florida Marlins on Sunday Night Baseball, what transpired at the end that uneventful game is something that's as vivid now as it was then.

Promoted from Double-A Tennessee two days earlier, Adam Greenberg was called upon in the ninth inning to make his first big league at-bat. The left-hander dug in the box against southpaw Valerio de los Santos, ready to make the most of the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

However, the moment quickly went from sheer excitement to horror, as Greenberg was struck in the back of the head with the first pitch of his career.

As it has already been well documented over the course of the past week, the now-31-year-old never returned to major leagues, as the trauma caused by the impact lingered in the form of positional vertigo.

After seven years of fighting to get back to the major leagues—he spent time in the Dodgers, Royals, Angels and Reds, and several seasons in the Independent Leagues—and with the support of filmmaker Matt Liston and his viral “One At-Bat” online campaign, it was announced on Thursday that the Miami Marlins would sign the outfielder to a one-day contract on Oct. 2, and give him his long-awaited “one at-bat.”

Every baseball fan who remembers that fateful night in July of 2005 has to applaud the Marlins’ decision to give Greenberg his at-bat. So, along those same lines, here’s a look at a few other heartwarming comeback stories.


Tom Wilhelmsen

These days, Wilhelmsen is better known to baseball fans as “The Bartender,” or simply, the Seattle Mariners’ closer. But before that, he was a failed pitching prospect turned part-time vagabond.

Selected in the seventh round of the 2002 draft out of a Tuscson, Arizona high school, the right-hander served as a starting pitcher in the Brewers system in his first professional season, 2003. However, following the campaign, Wilhelmsen tested positive for a drug of abuse (marijuana) on two separate occasions in 2004 and ultimately chose to retire following the completion of his 50-game suspension in 2005.

Over the next five years, Wilhelmsen spent time backpacking through Europe and tending bar at a local Tucson establishment—hence the nickname.

However, he launched a comeback before the start of the 2010 season, as he signed a minor league contract with the Mariners, reaching their Low-A affiliate in an overall success season.

On August 2, 2011, Wilhelmsen was called up by the Mariners and went to record a 2-0 record, 3.31 ERA and 8.3 K/9 in 25 games.

This season, The Bartender has emerged as one of the better closers in baseball, saving 29 games for the Mariners and registered a 2.41 ERA, 9.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 72 games.


Evan Gattis

At 26, Evan Gattis’ baseball career is seemingly just taking off. In 2011, as a 24-year-old, the catcher-corner outfielder batted .322/.386/.601 with 22 home runs for Low-A Rome in the South Atlantic League.

Eight years earlier, Gattis was a highly recruited power hitter out of high school on scholarship to attend Texas A&M University. However, that never happened, as he instead opted to attend a drug rehabilitation program for 30 days and spent the subsequent months in a halfway house. He attempted a comeback shortly thereafter at an Oklahoma JuCo program, but ultimately dropped.

On a spiritual quest, seemingly, Gattis spent the next several years traveling the western United States, working odd jobs when necessary and, at times, living out of his car.

Despite playing 60 games for the Braves’ rookie-level Appalachian League affiliate in 2010, Gattis flew under the radar until his breakout season in 2011. His strong performance carried over into spring training, prompting David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to publish this excellent story.

Although he spent some time on the disabled list this season, Gattis still batted .305/.389/.607 with 18 home runs in 74 games.


Jeff Allison

Regarded of the top high school prospects in country in 2003, the Marlins selected Allison, a right-handed pitcher, with the 16th-overall pick in 2003 draft.

Throwing only nine innings after signing, Allison’s struggles to overcome addictions to heroin and OxyContin came to light when he entered a rehabilitation program that winter. His downward spiral continued in the summer of 2004, as he overdosed on heroin and re-entered a treatment program. 

Allison pitched for the Marlins’ Low-A affiliate in 2005, going 5-4 with a 4.18 ERA over 17 starts, and seemed as though he was back on track. However, the right-hander was suspended by the organization following the season for presumably drug-related matters.

In August of 2006, Allison suffered a second heroin overdose. A few months later, he was arrested in North Carolina on a slew of charges: possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of a stolen car, heroin possession and resisting arrest. Allison failed to appear in court for the charges and an arrest warrant was filed. He was picked up in June of 2007 and ultimately sentenced to 75 days in jail.

After 15 months of sobriety, Allison mounted a comeback with the Marlins in 2008, going 9-8 with a 5.22 ERA in 120.2 innings.

He spent the majority of the 2009 through 2011 seasons pitching for Double-A Jacksonville, before opting to retire rather than address a lingering elbow injury. During that span, he registered a 10-15 record and 5.44 ERA while pitching in 60 games.