Tuesday, December 17, 2013

August 15- San Francisco Giants

This post pertains to the specific date posted above. Enjoy.

My parents had separated for only a few months when my other decided to take my brothers Matt and Adam and myself to Livermore, California to visit our grandmother for a weekend in August in 1989. We had left on Friday the 11th, but we returned to our home in Bakersfield on Wednesday the 16th after missing a few too many days of school. It wasn’t like my mom to have us miss class, but I think she needed some extra time to spend with our grandmother to really grasp everything that had come to her and my father splitting up. From what I can recall the eventual divorce hit my oldest brother Matt the hardest as he was about to turn 11 in November, and at that age the sense of “I did something to cause this” was starting to settle into his mind. My brother Adam, who would be turning 10 the same month, took a protector role as I was too young to really understand what was going on. As the years pressed on these roles shifted slightly; Matt hated my mother for almost two decades as he eventually blamed her for their split, and Adam flip-flopped a bit on things as he became way more rebellious and sometimes took his frustration out on me. I merely sat back and observed, occasionally taking the role of the leader as I became way more methodical about the situation as I got older. As I loom back on the way things have panned out, it almost feels like a dream. No child should ever be put in that situation. I fully understand that marriage isn’t a for sure thing, even in a Mormon household that I grew up in. Everyone will be changed in some way, but it’s how we react to that adversity is what truly defines our character. I did my best to rise above the pain and frustration, as did my brothers, mother and father, but that’s not to say we didn’t slip from time to time. Today we’re all a bit happier. My mother and father don’t speak to one another, but my brothers and I don’t hold the grudges against either of them, nor do we bicker and fight like we used to anymore. I’m not entirely sure how my brothers got over it, but for me, I was always sought sports for my comfort.

1989 was an especially weird year, and the divorce made things especially odd when the World Series came around that October. Adam and my father had both grown up huge San Francisco Giants fans while Matt and I favored the Oakland Athletics. Obviously we all know how that series panned out. Matt and I were more than jubilant while Adam and my dad had the bitter taste of defeat in their mouth. My mother was indifferent due to her Boston Red Sox loyalty, but from what I recall, it was the last time I remember us all being collectively involved and happy in the wake of the madness that would slowly tear us all apart for the majority of 20 years.

There’s a reason I brought all of this to the table and most of it has to do with that weekend in August. While I remember small bits and pieces of my brothers and me running around the neighborhood of my grandmother’s house on Drake Way, I only partially remember my mother crying and her mother trying to console as I looked on in confusion. As the days passed I did my best to entertain myself by watching movies and baseball to kind of tune everything out since no one was making an effort to fill me in on everything that was happening. That weekend the Athletics had taken two out of three from the California Angels and beat the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday by the final score of 5-2. As for the Giants, they had lost two of three from their longtime rival the Los Angeles Dodgers and had begun a three game series on Tuesday in Montreal against the Expos. The Athletics game wasn’t on, but the Giants game was being broadcast on KTVU, so my brothers and I ended up watching it that evening. There’s a reason why I remember all these little bits and details even though most adults shouldn’t more than 24 years later. This was the night that I, and every Giants and Expos fan who happened to be watching that game, saw Dave Dravecky pitch for the last time.

8/15/89: It would be a few years before I fully understood what I was watching. I had heard the name Dravecky a few times in the three years that I had been following baseball, but it didn’t really stick until he took the mound against the Expos. He had started the game for the Giants, only his second appearance/start of the season after he underwent surgery in October of 1988, in which doctors removed half of the deltoid muscle in his pitching arm and froze the humerus bone in an effort to eliminate all of the cancerous cells that had been spreading throughout his left arm; his pitching arm. He had returned to the mound after an extensive rehab run in the minors on August 10th against the Cincinnati Reds, a game in which he would thrown eight innings while only allowing three earned runs on four hits and a walk on the road to the win. 

Against the Expos Dravecky had started out on fire, throwing a no-hitter through three innings before giving up a single to Andres Galarraga with one out in the top of the fourth. Dravecky went on to retire the next two batters. The Giants tacked on a run in the top of the fifth inning to give them a 1-0 lead. Dravecky had a some trouble in the bottom half of the inning, but managed to get through it after allowing back-to-back singles by Tim Wallach and Mike Fitzgerald before retiring the next three batters. Dravecky recalled a tingling sensation in his arm throughout the inning, but persevered. In the top of the sixth Will Clark led off with a single before Matt Williams cranked a two-run blast off of Bryn Smith to give the Giants a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the inning. With a lead in tact and the minimum amount of innings to get a decision in the books, Dravecky took to the mound to face second baseman Damaso Garcia. Dravecky’s first pitch was a ball, but his second pitch was right down Garcia’s wheelhouse as he blasted it to deep left field (3-1 Giants). The next batter was Galarraga. Dravecky started off a little shaky as his arm was started to bother him more intently. He got Galarraga up to a 2-2 count but eventually beaned him on the sixth pitch. A few Expos fans booed, but it’s pretty obvious that Dravecky didn’t mean to retaliate over the home run, especially after getting the next batter to a 2-2 count. With Galarraga on first base, up to the plate came the ever-dangerous Tim Raines who had gone 0-1 with a walk in his previous two plate appearance. After a brief cool down Dravecky got into his wind-up and fired a shot that went high and to the left into the net behind home plate. Before anyone could grasp what had happened, Dravecky dropped to the ground in writhing pain. The shoulder on his pitching arm, in the same area where the surgeons had removed the cancerous tumors, had snapped. It’s not often that one sees a grown man in such pain on live TV, but the gravity of the situation never leaves your mind. There are a few videos on the web that show what happened, but I’m not in favor of posting it. Fictional violence in film is one thing, but showing something horrific happen to another human being is where I draw the line. The news broke later that night of what had actually happened, but I didn’t find out until the next day. After a few more surgeries and staph infection broke out in Dravecky’s arm, he made the decision to have it amputated.

I’ve brought this up in a few of my other blog posts, in that I really didn’t come into my writing skills until I was 13-years-old. The moment it all became apparent was in Mr. Fowler’s American History class at Fruitvale Jr. High School in Bakersfield when we were given a major presentation assignment under the topic of “Triumph and Tragedy” or “Tragedy and Triumph.” There really was no wrong way of doing it just as long as the essence of perseverance was conveyed through our report. I chose Dravecky’s story through his book Comeback. One of the other reference items I had to aid me in my report was one of my favorite videos that I miraculously came across on Ebay back in 2008 on VHS called “Champions by the Bay,” an essential collectors piece for any Giants or Athletics fan. Due to the fact that the internet was really just getting dropped on the world at the time, all of my research came from these two resources and a scatter of magazine and newspaper clippings that I could come across. At the time, I didn’t know a whole lot about Dravecky other than his years with the Giants, what I later came to realize is that he was way more of a polarizing in baseball than most remember.

Born in Youngstown, Ohio Dravecky attended his hometown college, Youngstown State, where he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 21st round of the 1978 amateur draft. He spent his first three years in the minors with the Class-A Charleston Pirates (1978) before getting promoted to the AA Buffalo Bisons, where he spent two seasons (1979-1980) going 6-7 in his first year and 13-7 with a 3.35 ERA in his second. When 1981 came around he was traded to the San Diego Padres where he went 15-5 with a 2.67 ERA and 141 strikeouts with the AA Amarillo Gold Sox. It was in this season that he became a devout Christian. 1982 with the AAA Hawaii Islanders started off just as prosperous, 4-1 with a 2.48 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 16 appearances (15 in relief), when he was called up to the Majors and made his debut on June 15th of that year. From then until the middle of 1987 Dravecky made 199 appearances (119 starts) and finished with a 53-50 record, a 3.12 ERA, 456 strikeouts, one All-Star Game appearance in 1982 and one appearance in the World Series in 1984 against the Detroit Tigers, which they lost in five games. Dravecky pitched 10 2/3 innings in the playoff that season and didn’t allow a single run while striking out 10 batters. 

In the middle of the 1987 season the Padres traded Dravecky along with Craig Lefferts and Kevin Mitchell to the Giants in exchange for Chris Brown, Keith Comstock (who will appear in a future post), Mark Davis and Mark Grant. If you know anything about 1980s baseball, you know that the Giants totally owned the Padres on this deal. For the rest of the 1987 season Dravecky went 7-5 in 18 starts with a 3.20 ERA and 78 strikeouts as well as an appearance in the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, which they lost in seven games. Dravecky made two starts and went 1-1 despite pitching 15 innings while only allowing one run seven hits and four walks while striking out 14 batters. Seriously, he was lights out, but the Giants couldn’t give him any run support after Cardinals’ right fielder Jose Oquendo lobbed a sacrifice fly in the second inning of Game Six.

In 1988 Dravecky started off the season well, but was shut down after his start on May 28th when the cancerous desmoid tumor was discovered. 

He had pitched in seven games, going 2-2 with a 3.16 ERA and 19 strikeouts. When he made his return at Candlestick Park on August 10th he was met by a standing ovation from the sold out crowd of 34,810 fans. 

As I mentioned above, he pitched beautifully. His comeback merited the Hutch Award at the end of the season which is given to the player who "best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire" of Fred Hutchinson, by persevering through adversity. The award was created in 1965 in honor of Hutchinson, the former MLB pitcher and manager, who died of lung cancer the previous year. When Dravecky’s pitching career ended on that unfortunate day on August 15th, one detail from that game ended up being an intriguing moment down the road. Garcia, the player who had hit the home run off of Dravecky in the top of the sixth inning, saw his playing career come to an end less than month later in September 12th. The home run he hit would turn out to be the last in his 11-year career. Even eerier, a year after he retired, Garcia started to have double vision and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. In 1991, Garcia had the tumor removed, and was told that he only has six months to live. The effects of the tumor left him with limited speech and certain movement. He recovered enough to throw out the first pitch of a Toronto Blue Jays playoff game in 1992, the team he had been with for the majority of his career (1980-1986). His oldest son suffers from hemophilia which prompted Garcia to run a baseball camp for hemophiliac children in the Dominican Republic. As for Dravecky, he found himself at an unusual crossroad after the additional surgeries, the staph infection and the eventual amputation of June 18, 1991. After his recovery Dravecky looked at his life and analyzed his relationship with God and realized that baseball was merely a stepping stone to reach the next step. He began touring as a motivational speaker he wrote two books about his battles with cancer and his comeback attempt: Comeback, published in 1990 and written with Tim Stafford, and When You Can't Come Back, co-authored with wife Jan and Ken Gire and published in 1992. He has also written a Christian motivational book titled Called Up which was published in 2004.

I don’t speak much of religion in my posts unless it is pertinent to the topic at hand. As I mentioned above, and in a few other instances, I was raised Mormon. Most of what I have done in life may not reflect that of the typical Latter-Day Saint lifestyle (alcohol consumption, tattoos, smoking, etc.), but the one thing that has stayed within my life from those days is my faith in God. I’m a firm believer in the philosophy of “everything happens for a reason,” but that part that I differ on from most religions is that I don’t feel that God is necessarily controlling those moments. To me, God is merely watching over us, working more as a conscience when it comes to moments of right or wrong and taking the next step. It’s really more of a comfort, kind of like the way our parents are always by our sides, reminding us that they gave us the tools to succeed and now it’s up to us to choose the right path as they look on. Nothing about what I believe is meant to persuade anyone. You are all free to believe what you want and do what you want, but this is merely look into how I became the man I am today as I reflect upon the moments from my childhood that somehow became involved with the day that Dravecky took the mound for the last time. Much like Dravecky, an injury while I was playing baseball is inevitably what ended my possible opportunity to play professional baseball. Obviously mine wasn’t as horrendous, but the end result was the same: Baseball is merely a platform for us to see what our greater purpose is. For Dravecky, it’s sharing his story and sharing his testimony and relationship with God. For me, it’s sharing stories through my writing and baseball in the attempt to become a better person and help others along the way. While my drive isn’t a religiously charged as Dravecky’s, the mission is still the same.

Originally I was going to save this post until I could track down a Giants 1989 World Series cap since he was a part of the team that year, but I have something else planned for that. Instead, I chose this cap that the team used as their game cap from 1983 until the end of the 1993 season. Even though there were a lot of stories to tell during that time frame, nothing really embodied the good spirit of those teams quite like Dravecky in the two-and-a-half-years he was on the field. When I laid out my design plan for my mascot and logos tattoos I did it with the intention that every single piece had a greater story behind it. For the Giants, I got rather subtly creative.

Originally I was going to add the old Crazy Crab that everyone used to hate, and I may still add that down the road, but ultimately I chose Lou Seal. More specifically, I found a picture of Lou Seal from a kids MLB coloring book which featured a picture of him giving the thumbs up. Now, being an Athletics fan I of course had to put my tweak on it by giving it a thumbs down on top of the old school green underbrim on the cap; however, there is one aspect that I was very specific about that very few ever notice. If you look above you’ll notice that Lou Seal isn’t exactly all in frame. Yes, his legs are being boxed out by Chief Noc-a-Homa below, but the left arm was purposely covered up/removed as my tribute to Dravecky. Also, and this will blow your mind even more, if you look at the full tattoo below you’ll see that the two team mascots to his left (the Reds and Expos) are the last two teams he faced, and the last two teams he notched wins against as the Giants still won the game on August 15th as they preserved a 3-2 lead to end the game. 

I may not see eye-to-eye with Giants fans most of the time, but I do respect their history and quite a few of their players. Until the day comes when I am dispatched from this life, I am happy to have Dravecky always be a part of it.