It was one of baseball’s greatest moments: San Francisco Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky surviving cancer surgery in his throwing arm and only a year later in August 1989 in a miraculous comeback bid pitching seven flawless innings against the Cincinnati Reds.
It seemed so magical. Yet there had been a lot of anguish and pain leading up to that great moment.
‘Fear went through my mind,’ said Dravecky in a telephone interview from his Colorado Springs office, referring to the day in 1988 when first learning he had cancer. ‘It was shock. I heard the word ‘cancer’ and everything shut down. I was consumed by the news. My wife Jan, on the other hand, was strong, comforting and encouraging. She was my advocate. I am so grateful for that.’
He said to get through he gained strength from God.
Now age 50, Dravecky looks back on that year of rehabilitation before the comeback as a blur. ‘There was so much happening so fast,’ he said. ‘I don’t know how much (of what was occurring) really sunk in. The doctors said that outside of a miracle, I would never pitch again.’
It was that last comment by doctors that motivated him. He had to try, and once immersing himself in a comeback bid, he became ‘consumed by it.’
His rehabilitation bore fruit against the Reds as the nation watched him pitch. Then five days later while hurling against the Expos, Dravecky’s arm, which had lost a great deal of muscle in the cancer surgery, broke in two. He would never pitch again.
When on the ground in excruciating pain, again with the nation watching, Dravecky wrapped his heart around a comment a teammate had made the night before. Pitcher Bob Knepper had said the ‘real’ miracle in Dravecky’s life hadn’t been his comeback bid, but rather his personal relationship with God, which had begun in 1981.
‘I was lying on the ground with a broken arm and all I could hear were Bob’s words,’ Dravecky said. ‘Those words took away any anxiety I had. All of it was removed with the thought something bigger than baseball was happening.’
And it appeared to be. After having his left arm amputated in 1991, Dravecky and wife Jan founded Outreach of Hope, a nonprofit group that helps people battling cancer or amputation.
Next week I’ll have more on their organization.