In one of the most memorable moments of Major League Baseball, Dave Dravecky of the San Francisco Giants pitched a winning game less than a year after undergoing cancer surgery on his pitching arm. But his comeback was short-lived. Just five days after his winning game, Dravecky broke his arm—and would later lose it entirely as the cancer returned.
Dravecky’s true comeback would come later, as a bestselling author and inspirational speaker offering strength, hope, and comfort inspired by Christian teachings and his own experience with suffering and loss. This book recounts the thrilling details of Dravecky’s two comebacks—from his early baseball career and brief return to the pitching mound to his ultimate triumph over adversity through unflagging determination and deep faith.
“Dave Dravecky was young, popular, celebrated and at the height of his powers when life threw him a curveball he never could have imagined. . . . There is an inspirational tone to the book, as well as the wit and flavor common to baseball, when Mr. Dravecky gives anecdotes about teammates and managers and offers a few insider’s tips about the sport.” —The New York Times
“This is first a baseball book: details of his career are provided; the description of the comeback victory over the Reds is particularly effective. The other story here is one of a battle with cancer. It will be excellent reading for others battling the disease. Dravecky finds much of his strength in his religious beliefs, and the work is also a testimonial to that faith.” —Library Journal
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About the Author
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Between the Lines
To fully understand baseball, you must pay attention to little things. Everyone knows it when Will Clark cranks a home run into the stands. That's big and noisy and obvious. Yet often a game is decided because of a much quieter event: a two-out walk, for example, that barely stirs a ripple in the ranks of sprawling, sunbaked spectators. They paid their money to see home runs; they barely notice walks.
But players and coaches notice. They know too well how an insignificant walk can be the first tiny tear in the fabric of a close game, like a rip in the seam of a tightly stuffed pillow. Open the seam and, before you know it, stuffing is all over the place.
A two-out walk, or a pop fly that drops into a tiny open triangle of green that the second baseman, first baseman, and right fielder converge on just a second too late, or a tame ground ball that somehow maddeningly hops between the diving second baseman and the diving shortstop — each of these small events is like an open invitation: Chaos, come on in! Baseball players sit up and take note of little things. Often a close game is decided by one of those sneaky little insignificant happenings that set off a chain reaction.
I am what is called a finesse pitcher. I do not have overpowering stuff. My fastball rarely reaches ninety miles per hour, and my slider doesn't break a foot. I get outs by surprising batters, by keeping them off balance, and by putting the ball within an inch or two of where I intend it. I use small distances, which make small differences in batters' swings, which result in weak ground balls or pop flies. Finesse pitchers pay attention to little things. In fact, all real pitchers — as opposed to mere throwers — do.
CANCER came into my life as a small thing. I first noticed the lump in the fall of 1987.
When, exactly, I do not even know. Running my hand along my left arm, I found a firm, round shape under the skin on the upper arm, about the size of a quarter. It didn't hurt. It didn't show. And I paid it little attention. That lump, which was to create so much turmoil in my life, made almost no impression on me at all.
It was sometime in September. The regular season was almost over, and we had clinched the division title. The games went on, of course — we still had to play every day — but our thoughts were elsewhere. Roger Craig, the folksy, crafty manager of my team, the San Francisco Giants, was preparing the pitching rotation to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs. It was a time of intense but quiet anticipation, the pause before the carnival. We were making ready for what every baseball player works for, and most never experience: postseason play. That's when baseball takes off its everyday work clothes and puts on a party outfit. The stands are draped in red-white-and-blue bunting, the "Star Spangled Banner" is sung by star musicians rather than ground out on an organ, and the regular print reporters rub shoulders with media stars like Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola. The colors are brighter in the postseason. The prices double yet fans feel blessed if they get a ticket.
So I had other things on my mind than a little, painless lump. As a matter of fact, my arm felt the best it had in years. During many of my six seasons with the San Diego Padres my elbow had been sore. Since coming to the Giants on July 4, along with Kevin Mitchell and Craig Lefferts, my arm had recovered. I was nearly pain-free. I felt on top of my game.
It was a curious little lump, unlike anything I had experienced before. In the training room one day, deep in the concrete bowels of Candlestick Park, I happened to think of it. It was quiet in the clubhouse, as it usually is. As I was going out the door, I approached our trainer, Mark Letendre.
"Hey, Mark, take a look at this little lump. It doesn't hurt, but I thought I should draw it to your attention."
Mark ran his fingers over my arm, kneading the flesh. "Don't worry about it," he said. And I didn't.
THERE ARE many aspects of professional baseball I could happily live without. I hate the travel. To the bottom of my being I despise being separated from my family. For six months of the year you're on the road exactly fifty percent of the time, and even when you're home most of the games are at night. I generally leave for the ballpark at two in the afternoon, and arrive home after midnight. I get used to that schedule, but my kids don't. While school is on they're coming home about the time that I leave for work.
Then I take off with the team for two weeks of travel. When I get home from a long road trip, my kids often won't speak to me. Tiffany is a beautiful little seven-year-old, and Jonathan, at four, looks like my carbon copy. I'll come in the door and hold out my arms for a big hug, and for the first half hour they'll act like I'm a repairman. It's like they're saying, "You left me here with my love, and you didn't come back for two weeks, and now you expect me to give you a hug and a kiss. Well, forget it."
They get over it, eventually, and decide to forgive me. But not before they've made their point.
My wife Janice, on the other hand, understands what I'm doing, and why. She's always been very supportive. Nevertheless, she isn't completely delighted with life as a single parent when I'm gone. She's proud of my baseball career, but she could do happily without the lifestyle.
Yes, baseball offers fame and fortune. I'm thankful for it — I'm certainly glad to be able to provide well for my family while playing a game I love. But there's a down side to it. Adulation and wealth help create an unreal atmosphere. Some players begin to think that baseball — and life — owes them everything. Athletes are no better than the rest of mankind, and the pressures and temptations athletes live with may be harder. A major league clubhouse is a long way from heaven. I'd give it up without a second thought. Even the fame and money — I'd give them up, and I really don't think I'd regret it.
What I could not so easily give up is the game. That's what I love. I love to walk between the lines — across those narrow stripes of chalk that begin at the corners of home plate and extend out across green grass to the fences. Within those lines is the game I love to play. I have a passion for it.
Baseball is a team sport, but I think the nature of that teamwork is often misunderstood. Each play is one on one: man against man, or man against ball. It's what you do individually that contributes to the team. I love that: the individual challenges.
When I'm really locked in, I hardly know who is hitting. I know how I want to pitch to the guy, I've thought about his weaknesses all season, but when he walks to the plate that's faded into the background. The seven men behind me hardly exist either. Of course I'm counting on them, but I'm not thinking about them. My focus is in a tunnel between me and my catcher. All I'm seeing is him and the target he puts down. That's my zone. That's where I compete. I'm not thinking about blowing away any particular batter, besting him, showing him up. I'm really hardly aware of who he is. My challenge is to put the ball where I want to put it, into that tiny pocket of the catcher's glove.
I STARTED the second game of the '87 National League playoffs in St. Louis. It was a day game, clean and crisp as October can be. In the long, autumn shadows the air was chilly, and fans wore winter coats. But on the field, where we stretched and shagged flies and hit batting practice before the game, the bright sunlight felt wonderful.
The Cardinals' stadium, a sparkling clean, modern oval, was buzzing with the kind of excitement you feel only in the postseason. Most of the year, a baseball game is significant only because it puts up a win or a loss for the team. Nobody remembers the details. In postseason, every pitch, every swing, every foul ball seems to be meant for the history books.
I love to pitch in the Cardinals' ballpark. It's a wonderful stadium, the fans are terrific, and the team management treats players like royalty. Also, I love to pitch under pressure. I've never been a guy who pitches his best while warming up — what we call a bull pen pitcher. You ask my catcher what kind of stuff I have warming up, he's likely to tell you he hopes I last through the first inning. That doesn't bother me at all. So long as I've got my rhythm and balance, I don't care if I'm bouncing fifty-five-foot fastballs in the bull pen. I know when I walk between the lines it will be different. I need the pressure, and I love it. The postseason is pure pressure.
I came down the runway into the open air of the playing field feeling all fired up. We had lost the first game to St. Louis, by a score of 5 to 3. It is commonly believed in baseball that to lose the first two games of a seven-game series is suicide. To have any hope of going on to the World Series, we had to win the second game. I would be opposing John Tudor, one of the outstanding pitchers in baseball.
Besides everything else, it was my wedding anniversary. What a day.
I wasn't nervous. Excited, yes, but not really nervous. As soon as I got on the mound and threw my first pitch, I became totally absorbed by the game. My vision closed down. I saw my catcher, Bob Melvin. I saw his glove. I didn't see much else.
Baseball can seem to move slowly, and then with the speed of an accident, the game changes character. In the top of the second inning, Candy Maldonado, our right fielder, led off with a crisp single. He was followed by Will Clark, who with a long, smooth, effortless ellipse of his bat locked on a pitch and sent it high in the air to right field. Jose Oquendo backed up to the fence, as though he had a bead on it, and Candy went back to first base to tag up. But the ball fell into the stands for a home run. Suddenly, with hardly any warning, we were ahead 2-0. Busch Stadium fell absolutely quiet.
I kept it quiet. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote of my pitching that day, "It was so easy it seemed effortless. It was so effortless it seemed boring." Perhaps so, but not to me. I was pitching the game of my life. Every time the 55,331 fans stirred to life, I quieted them. There on the mound, throwing my pitches, I was able to completely control the mood and the tempo of the game. It was an incredible feeling of power.
Here's how to tell whether I'm pitching at my best: Watch how many bats I break. When my slider is perfectly placed, it comes at a right-handed batter as though it were off the outside corner of the plate. Then at the last second, when he's decided not to swing, the pitch breaks down and in, onto the outside corner. That's called a backdoor slider.
It sets up my fastball inside. The batter who's seen that slider on the outside corner is leaning out over the plate. A fastball on the inside corner catches him leaning too far. He swings, but he's hitting on the thin part of the bat, and it shatters.
That day I broke five bats.
In the fourth inning, our left fielder Jeffrey Leonard came to the plate. The Cardinal fans had taken a dislike to Jeffrey, possibly because he had been hitting a home run a day, and rounding the bases with all the quickness of a four-wheel-drive vehicle in deep mud. The fans taunted Jeffrey with a high, mocking call: Jeff-REE! Jeff-REE!
Leonard is a strong, proud, tough-looking dude. He fouled off a few pitches and then went deep to straightaway center field. The ball seemed to take a very long time to settle over the fence, and Leonard took even longer to circle the bases. It was 3-0. Busch Stadium was silent, as quiet as though everyone had just up and left.
As far as I was concerned, they might have. I was locked in. Fifty thousand fans did not exist to me. Even the batters barely existed. Only my catcher was there. We were thinking in sync, two, three pitches ahead. He knew what I wanted to throw. I knew that he knew. Some of the time we didn't even use signs. Pitches were called by lip service. If the count was 0 and 2, he knew my next pitch would be a fastball inside. Then I'd come back with the backdoor slider. When the batter wasn't looking I mouthed the words to Bob: "Backdoor." Bang! It was there, creasing the imaginary black line on the outside of the plate. Next batter.
In the top of the fifth inning, we almost broke it open. I even got a hit. But we blew a squeeze play and didn't score. The fans began to buzz. The momentum seemed to shift. The Cardinals were coming to life.
I went out to the mound thinking, Keep on cheering. Make a little more noise. Because the silence will be that much greater when we're done with this inning.
I was stoked. Not that you would know it by looking at me. My confidence doesn't come through in my expressions. If anything, I want to keep the fire out of my eyes, so my opponents don't see what I'm feeling.
But I was confident to my bones. It gave me a feeling I can't describe in words, to go out there with the crowd stirring and beginning to chant, and to put them back to sleep.
We scored twice more in the eighth inning, thanks to a very rare error by Ozzie Smith. Ozzie glided toward third base for a ground ball, made an effortless dip to the carpet — and came up empty. The ball hopped between his legs, and, running full speed, two men scored. With a five-run lead I coasted home with my first postseason win. I'd given up two hits and no runs, putting myself in the record books. In the 1984 playoffs and World Series I'd pitched five times in relief and not given up a run. Now I'd run my postseason record to nineteen and two-thirds scoreless innings.
AFTER THE GAME I was summoned to the interview room. Usually the press talk to you by your locker. At most, a small handful of reporters gather around you there. But for postseason play there are so many reporters present that they set up a special room with a microphone for a few key players.
I walked in late, while Roger Craig was talking in his John Wayne drawl. The room was jammed with reporters holding their tape recorders into the air, with TV cameramen vying for elbow room, with bright lights. I could barely get through the crush.
Apparently somebody had asked Roger a question about Christian ballplayers. There's a common rap on Christians, that they are too nice to be winners, that they just shrug their shoulders and praise the Lord when they lose, and so lack the intensity and determination to come through in tough games. I was shouldering my way to the front of the room when I heard Roger say, "They say Christians don't have any guts. Well, this guy's a Christian and he's not afraid of anything." That was his introduction. He handed the microphone over to me.
Right away a writer from one of the big papers followed up. "Roger just commented about what some people say, that Christian athletes don't have guts. How do you respond to that?"
You have to understand how rare an opportunity that is. Most of the time reporters are very careful not to ask you anything that might lead into the subject of religion. If you were to talk about how you get inspiration from your pet beagle, they would be interested in that, but when God comes into the picture reporters generally steer far away. They quickly go on to another subject, and you can be pretty sure any words about faith won't be quoted.
In some ways I can appreciate their motives. A person's faith in God is a very personal matter. But I'd really like to be able to tell people about who I am and what matters most to me, if they want to know. So I was delighted at that moment, with the eyes of America on me, on live TV, to be asked that question.
They were asking, essentially, whether Christians are wimps. The best way to answer that question, I thought, was to ask whether Jesus was a wimp. After all, Christians are followers of Jesus. If he was a wimp, Christians should be too.
I told them that if Jesus were in my shoes, called to compete as a professional athlete, he would be the best athlete on the field. He would play with more intensity and aggressiveness than any other athlete. But he would always be under control.
I didn't mean to suggest that I picture Jesus as a baseball player. Jesus had more important things to do than to play baseball. But in whatever Jesus did, whether preaching to crowds or caring for a single, insignificant individual, he did it uncompromisingly, intensely, and powerfully. As anybody who has read the Bible knows, Jesus was no wimp. So if I imagine Jesus doing the job I'm called to do, I can easily imagine him doing it in a way I would have to respect.
I said to the reporters, "Jesus Christ is my example. I play for him. When I play, I play to glorify God. I recognize the ability he's given me, and so I play with everything I have."
I loved getting the chance to tell them that.
I remember meeting my wife Janice after coming out of the clubhouse. She was in the long, crowded corridor where players' family members wait after the game.
I caught a glimpse of her through all the noisy, happy confusion of families greeting each other. She looked wonderful. Her face was glowing. I grabbed her and we kissed. When I told her about the postgame interview, she practically jumped up and down.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Comeback"
Copyright © 1999 Dave Dravecky.
Excerpted by permission of Bondfire Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chronology of Events,
1 Between the Lines,
2 In Preparation,
3 Good Dreams,
4 Sore Shoulder,
5 Field of Dreams,
6 Preparing for the Worst, Hoping for the Best,
7 In Barranquilla and Amarillo,
8 Making It to the Big Leagues,
10 Under the Knife,
11 The Aftermath,
12 In the Dungeon,
14 Hitting the Wall,
15 Air It Out,
16 Up Through the Minor Leagues,
17 Pack Your Bags,
18 August 10,
19 The Pitch,
20 Changing My Focus,
21 A Second Comeback?,
22 The Playoffs,
24 The Tumor Is Back,
25 Was It Worth It?,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Dave Dravecky writes in a compelling way about experiences that took him from the job he loved. I am not a sports fan, but I can share his story as a family member of another strong man who faced cancer. It is factual without getting stuck in despair and is inspiring without being naive.
Comeback is the intriguing auto-biography of the miraculous comeback of Dave Dravecky. He was a determined baseball player who started out at the bottom of the baseball food chain. From the beginning, he had always had a lump on his left arm (his pitching arm) and it only grew bigger as his career preceeded. When it began to give him shoulder pains, he decided he should get it checked out. The doctors told him he had to get the lump removed, which would interfere with his baseball career. Dave, however, was a determined man and went through countless housr of physical training and re-training his arm to pitch again after surgery and eventually came back to play in the major leagues again. I enjoyed this book because it is very inspirational and he is not afraid to share his faith in Jesus Christ. There is nothing bad I can really say about this great book. I would recommend that people read it because it inspires the reader to keep going, no matter what the circumstances and teaches the reader to reach for their dreams; no matter how far they may seem.