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08/10/09 9:49 PM ET

Dravecky remains an inspiration

Pitcher returns on 20th anniversary of comeback game

SAN FRANCISCO -- Dave Dravecky understands why his tale remains compelling.

Citing the cover of his 1990 book "Comeback," which depicts him wearing a San Francisco Giants uniform and his left arm in a sling, Dravecky theorized that if one were to obscure the title, few would recognize him or his name. But he knows that the reaction would be different if his name were hidden instead.

"People would see the picture and go, 'That's the guy who had cancer who broke his arm.' That's why the story is still being told today," Dravecky said. "It's because people relate at that level. There are a lot of folks in the midst of pain and suffering and they're struggling with whatever it is. As a result of that, when someone comes along with a story they can relate to, they want to hear it."

Dravecky visited AT&T Park on Monday, the 20th anniversary of the event that deepened his saga. Less than a year after undergoing surgery to have a cancerous tumor removed from his throwing arm -- which prompted doctors to tell him he'd likely never pitch again -- Dravecky returned to the Major Leagues on Aug. 10, 1989, by allowing a mere four hits in eight innings against the Cincinnati Reds in a 4-3 Giants triumph.

As Dravecky is quick to point out, more than just a ballgame at Candlestick Park was going on that day. The parents of a 6-year-old named Alex Vlahos made a public plea of help for their son, who was stricken by leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. The family was willing to pay for the cost of finding a donor. KNBR, the Giants' flagship radio station, asked listeners to make contributions based on each pitch Dravecky threw against the Reds. He threw 93 as more than $200,000 was raised.

"What happened that day was bigger than any victory I could ever have between the lines," Dravecky said.

Ultimately, Dravecky decided that he wanted to reach out to people the way that Giants fans and people in the Bay Area extended themselves for the Vlahos family. That's why Dravecky currently travels the country as a motivational speaker -- "encouraging people who hurt," as he put it -- delivering his story 20 to 25 times a year to a variety of audiences.

"If it weren't for that little boy and that story, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today," said Dravecky, who thanked the public for their empathy by writing a letter to the editor that was published in Monday's San Francisco Chronicle.

Giants fans proved that they remember Dravecky well. They showered him with a standing ovation before San Francisco's series opener Monday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers as he threw a ceremonial first pitch.

With his right arm.

Five days after defeating the Reds, Dravecky started again in Montreal. But his humerus bone snapped as he pitched to Tim Raines in the sixth inning. Dravecky came back from cancer, but he couldn't return from this injury. He underwent two more surgeries before his left arm and shoulder were amputated in July 1991.

"I knew exactly what happened," said Giants special assistant Will Clark, who played first base that night. "I heard it before I saw it. It sounded like a rifle going off."

Clark was the first person to reach Dravecky, who dropped to the ground in pain.

"To put it mildly, his arm was in a bad position," Clark recalled. "I grabbed his arm to stabilize it. I hate to say it, but it was like grabbing mush. He was screaming. I was trying to get him to calm down before anybody could get out there and not let him go into shock."

Dravecky was done pitching, but he made a lasting impact on the Giants, who proceeded to win the National League pennant.

"Because it was so dramatic when he came back, it was not only a physical lift on the field but also an emotional lift for the rest of that year," said Clark, who caught Dravecky's ceremonial toss Monday. "Everybody talks about chemistry in the clubhouse and he was a vital part of that. That was a huge morale boost for us. Huge."

Dravecky, 53, has continued to lift people's spirits with his presentations. He had no idea that people longed for his story until 1991, when he was deluged with 1,500 requests to speak.

"Baseball obviously allowed for those 1,500 to come through, because it was the platform," Dravecky said. "But as a result of that, I think it was obvious there was something bigger going on. God really wanted us to tell our story and so ... I'll tell my story as long as people want to hear it. I hope I die telling my story. I don't ever want to retire."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.