Dave Dravecky's Last Pitch
By Will Dawson
The 700 Club
“Eight-year-old kid from Youngstown, Ohio. Ate, slept, and drank baseball. My two heroes were Sandy Koufax and Vida Blue.”
His dream, like most boys, was simple. One day he would play Major League Baseball, but Dave Dravecky found out the road to the big leagues was paved with pain and hope.
In 1981, while playing Minor League Ball in Amarillo, Texas, Dave learned there was more to life than baseball. Teammate Byron Ballard, a Christian, asked Dave some tough questions.
“Who am I? And more importantly who am I in relation to God,” recalls Dave Dravecky. “As I began that journey and started asking all those questions, I came face to face with Jesus. As a result of that, I embraced the truth.”
Dave became a Christian. Then after four years in the Minors, the San Diego Padres called Dave up to the big leagues. The following season Dave made his first all-star appearance and in 1984 led the Padres to the World Series.
“All of life was good. Things couldn’t get any better than they were.”
In 1987, the Padres traded Dave to San Francisco where he helped the Giants to the playoffs. Then the following season Dave noticed a lump on his pitching arm. As the lump grew, so did Dave’s concerns. He had an MRI, and the results were devastating.
“We were in the waiting room. The doctors were outside the waiting room, and they were shuffling the films up under the lights. One of the doctors we overheard say, ‘Oh man! This looks like a tumor!’
“Before the doctors even entered the room, I looked at [my wife] Jan, and I said, ‘Babe, we’ve got to pray.’ At that time, I didn’t have any eloquent prayer to pray. All we prayed was, ‘God, whatever is going on, give us the strength to handle this.’”
The doctors confirmed Dave’s worst fears.
“He looked at us and said, ‘Based on what we’re seeing and what we’re going to have to do, outside of a miracle, you’re never going to pitch.’”
Doctors removed half of the deltoid muscle in Dave’s pitching arm. He says, “What went through my mind had nothing to do with baseball. It had everything to do with life. I was face to face with my own mortality. I started thinking about my family. It was a major crisis for me, but the truth is I don’t know what God’s plan is and what I need to do is my part. So that was a huge, huge part for me in this whole story was coming to the realization that I’ve got to try. I’m not going to walk away.”
Dave was determined to get back in the game. After months of grueling therapy and training, he fought his way back into a starting role in the Minor Leagues.
“All of the sudden, I’m in Stockton, California. The stands were full. I’d never seen anything like it before in a Minor League game. We win that ball game. I was given a 75-pitch limit for a seven-inning game, because it was a double-header. I threw 76 pitches and completed that game. I thought, ‘God, this just might be it.’ It was then I realized I just might have an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues again.”
On August 10, 1989, Dave Dravecky made his return to Major League Baseball, leading the Giants to a victory over the CincinnatI Reds. Before his next start in Montreal, Dave had lunch with teammate Bob Knepper. Bob told him something which would turn out to be prophetic.
“He said, ‘It’s not the miracle of the comeback that’s so important here. It’s the miracle of salvation that occurred in your life back in Amarillo, Texas, in 1981. What God is doing is providing a platform for you through Major League Baseball to share His love with those who hurt.’ I thought, ‘Wow! That’s cool. That’s really cool, but I don’t know what that means.’”
Five hours later, Dave understood. While delivering a pitch, Dave’s arm broke and he collapsed on the ground.
“All I could hear were Bob Knepper’s words over and over in my mind as I was lying on the ground with a broken arm. I was overwhelmed.”
Dave’s baseball career ended that day, and after two surgeries and a staph infection, Dave lost his shoulder and pitching arm. He says, “I was struggling with my identity. If I could no longer be a baseball player, who am I? In saying that and even thinking about it today, what I was doing was actually forgetting that my identity was not in being a baseball player. My identity was in who I was as a child of God because of what Jesus had done on the cross.”
Nearly 20 years later, Dave is fulfilling the vision he says God has for his life. He’s involved in his Outreach of Hope, using his platform from Major League Baseball to share God’s love with those who hurt. Through Dave’s suffering, he understands pain more than ever and from where true healing comes.
“I would be willing to admit today that I have grown more through the bad and the ugly than I ever did through the good. Without Jesus, I am nothing. Unconditional love. That’s what it tells me: grace for someone who doesn’t deserve it; hope for someone who needs it desperately, and a promise that I am going to live with him forever. That’s what my story helps me understand about the character of God.”
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