Some baseball players entertain; Dave Dravecky changed my life

This evening I looked at the list of short biographies I’ve written. Some were requests. A number of them were people I found fascinating. And in the case of Lyman Bostock and George Brett, they were men who changed the way I lived life.
I asked myself who was missing. And I came up with some names.

Dave Dravecky.

Dave Dravecky. Man, what can I tell you about Dave Dravecky? He happened to be pitching on one of the worst days of my life. I won’t go into details–it wasn’t his fault. The day would have been a little bit better if he hadn’t pitched those two shutout innings, but not much.

Three years later, my dad scored tickets to Game 2 of the 1987 National League Playoffs at Busch Stadium. Dad and I made a career of living in eastern Missouri and hating the Cardinals; we donned our Royals gear and watched Dravecky pitch the best baseball game I ever saw in person, tossing a sparkling two-hitter. Amazing. I remember thinking that must have been what it was like to watch Lefty Grove or Sandy Koufax pitch.

The next season, Dravecky started feeling sick. Doctors found cancer in his pitching arm. They took half his deltoid muscle and froze the humerus bone. The doctors’ goal was to kill the cancer and leave enough arm for him to be able to do things like tie his shoes. Dravecky’s goal was to pitch in the majors again.

You can probably guess what’s next, since the story’s not over yet. He pitched two games for the San Francisco Giants in August 1989. The first game was a drama. Not a masterpiece like the game I saw at Busch, but a solid 8-inning performance that he won 4-3. The second game, he felt his arm start to tingle in the fifth inning. In the sixth inning, it broke as he threw a fastball to Tim Raines. The Giants were headed to the World Series that year and everybody knew it, and Dravecky wasn’t going to be able to contribute any further. It was heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking because he’d been through so much. And it was heartbreaking because the Giants lost that World Series, and Dravecky’s left arm probably could have won it for them, and what a story that would have been.

Dravecky’s arm broke in a second place during the celebration as the Giants won the last game of the playoffs. Dravecky was asking God some questions after that. Not “Why me?” but rather, “Why was I so stupid?”

Well, some good came of it. A doctor was examining the x-rays to make sure the two breaks were lining up. The good news was, they were. The bad news wasn’t that he’d never pitch again. The bad news was what else he saw.

The lump was back.

Two surgeries later, the cancer was gone, but Dravecky’s once strong arm was a dead limb. He had no range of motion and he was in pain and it was constantly infected. Two years after his aborted comeback, he had to have the arm amputated. Now he really wasn’t going to pitch again.

So now Dravecky is a former baseball player, as well as an author and evangelist. His 1992 book, When You Can’t Come Back, is inspiring. I read it in high school. Flipping through it to find details for his bio, I decided I really need to read it again.

There are other names that came to mind. Ron Hassey. I’ll never forget a game in 1984, after he’d been traded to the Chicago Cubs. He went from the starting catcher for the cellar-dwelling Indians to a little-used backup for a contender. One day, out of the blue, he was playing first base. Not his usual position. And at one point in the game, he stretched to make a catch, and pulled a muscle. He made the catch, then he collapsed, grimacing in pain. Players surrounded him. And you know what Hassey did? He rolled, squirmed, stretched, somehow made his way over to first base, tagged the base, and made the out. Then they carried him off the field on a stretcher and it was two months before you saw him again.

How he noticed that he could take advantage of the situation and get a cheap out, I have no earthly idea. I admire people like that.

I like people like that. People who give 100%. Even when their 100% is a mere 1% of what it would be on any other day, people who still give whatever it is they’ve got. I don’t know how many people remember Ron Hassey, but I’ll never forget him.

And I know I’ll never forget Dave Dravecky. Dravecky lost everything. For as long as he could remember, his left arm was the reason people were interested in him. Then, one day, it was gone. He learned what he could do with what he had left. He could give people courage. Hope. It took him some time. But he’s afffected thousands of people in a powerful way. Not bad for a guy who wondered what he had left.

There are people who give momentary thrills, and there are people who change your life.

I know which one I’d rather be.

2 thoughts on “Some baseball players entertain; Dave Dravecky changed my life

  • August 28, 2003 at 9:35 pm
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    WOW! Beautiful, David. Thanks.

  • December 2, 2003 at 2:20 am
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    I really enjoyed this, particularly the part about my dad-I remember him.

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