By Mark H. Hunter, Special to the Message
BATON ROUGE – Dave Dravecky was at the top of his game and at the top of Major League Baseball when his world crashed on August 10, 1989.
[img_assist|nid=7305|title=Dave Dravecky|desc=Former Major League Baseball pitcher Dave Dravecky lost his arm to cancer at the height of his career. He told his story April 27 to several thousand attending the 47th annual Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in Baton Rouge.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=71]“There was an incredible explosion in my left ear releasing that fast ball when my left arm snapped in half,” Dravecky said in a video introduction before his live speech April 27 at the 47th annual Governor’s Prayer Breakfast.
Wearing a white shirt that sagged like an empty pillowcase where his left shoulder and arm used to be, Dravecky enthralled several thousand officials, business-people and Gov. Bobby Jindal with his story of success, sorrow and faith.
Dravecky said he lived every boy’s sports dream by becoming an all-star pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. That dream shattered when doctors discovered cancer in his left arm. He underwent major surgery and 10 months of chemotherapy and radiation and defying all odds made a miraculous comeback – but for only one game.
His next game he threw what is called “the pitch heard ‘round the world” when his throwing arm actually broke and he fell to the turf writhing in pain before thousands of fans in Giants Stadium.
That’s when, he said, he discovered there is more to life than baseball.
It’s easy to talk about the good things in life, Dravecky said, but when it comes to ‘the bad’ and ‘the ugly,’ we are forced to remove the masks that protect us from exposing our weakness.
“I began to understand the power of healing in my life when I was especially able to acknowledge the bad and the ugly,” Dravecky said. “We must all acknowledge that we are weak without the One who gives us strength.”
His good life, he explained, was growing up in Ohio playing baseball and always wanting to become a pro, making it onto a college team and getting drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Three years later he was traded to the San Diego Padres and sent to Amarillo, Texas, where his roommate led him to the Lord and he began reading his Bible daily.
He got married, had children, moved up into the big-league Padres in 1983 and played in the All-Star game. In 1984 he pitched in the World Series, and although they lost, “losers still get a nice ring, too,” he said as the crowd applauded.
The year 1988 “was going to be my year,” Dravecky said, but then a doctor’s exam found a cancerous lump in his left arm.
“My world was turned upside down at the age of 32,” Dravecky said. “Now I was faced with my own mortality. The doctors said without a miracle I would never pitch again.”
If he had quit baseball, he said, “I might still have my arm, but, I’m not a quitter.” For ten months he underwent intense therapy. “God restored me to health and on August 18, 1989, it all paid off.”
He won the game that was publicized as if it was a World Series game. The photograph of him pitching that day was made into the collector’s card he held up.
Five days later, pitching the next game, his arm broke. Surgery was unsuccessful; he suffered a stubborn staph infection, and again underwent radiation treatments.
“God doesn’t just exist on the mountaintops,” Dravecky said. “In fact, He’s more real in the valley.”
Nothing the doctors tried worked. Finally, in 1991, his arm and shoulder were removed.
“I found myself in an identity crisis and all of a sudden ‘the ugly’ started to happen,” he said. His pain, he admitted, turned into verbal abuse of his wife and children, “because I was living in a place I couldn’t deal with.”
Clenching the collector card in his teeth, he tore it in half, held it up to the audience and rhetorically asked, “Does Dave Dravecky still have worth?”
“I have worth beyond my comprehension because it has nothing to do with what I do but with who I am,” he said. “When you begin to understand who you are before the God of the universe it will affect everything you do.”
He realized, he said, that “God intervenes in our lives every day so we can experience His amazing grace. If we can only trust Him.”
That grace and trust restored their marriage, he said, and his life is now filled with love, not regret.
“My worth is not in what I do, it is in what Christ has done for me,”
Dravecky said. “Cancer has been a blessing in Dave Dravecky’s life.”