The last baseball Turlock’s Dave Dravecky threw in his memorable and heartbreaking career was returned to him, to his shock, two years ago.
He never had even seen the ball since Aug. 15, 1989, the day his major-league baseball career came to a sudden and horrifying end. Dravecky, the pitcher for the San Francisco Giants and a former all-star with the San Diego Padres, threw a fastball to Tim Raines at Montreal.
Dravecky collapsed to the ground, and his teammates heard the bone snapping in his left arm. His celebrated comeback from cancer in that arm, completed only five days before in a stirring victory at Candlestick Park, ended. So did his career.
But what became of the ball, which rolled off his hand into the Expos’ dugout? Dravecky, speaking to more than 400 at the 49th Outstanding Athlete Awards Dinner on Wednesday night at the Sportsmen of Stanislaus Club, found inspiration in the solving of that mystery.
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Dravecky recalled how a box arrived at his home in December 2014 from David Kaufman, a CEO from Montreal. Kaufman had followed Dravecky’s story and bought a ticket that day next to the Expos’ dugout. After Dravecky’s fateful pitch, Kaufman talked a batboy into giving him the ball.
Fast-forward to two years ago and the mailed box, which contained the final ball thrown in Dravecky’s career. Kaufman figured the man who threw it should own it.
15 OAA athletes who’ve swept both the top high school and college/open division awards
“Twenty-five years later in that box was the ball I threw in my last pitch,” Dravecky told the hushed crowd. “That’s the power and the significance of what one baseball can do for the rest of your life.”
Dravecky, whose left arm eventually was amputated in 1991, retold his dramatic story on the night Stanislaus County’s top athletes of 2015 were honored. Since the amputation, he’s been an in-demand public speaker who still makes about 20 public appearances a year on behalf of the Giants. His personal and compelling message inspired two standing ovations on OAA night.
“Each one of these athletes has a story that’s being written. One of the cool things these young men and women are doing are making memories,” he said. “I’ll never forget the memories around the baseball (returned to him). Everyone here is creating memories.”
The night’s top awards in the high school division were given to Enochs High’s two-time state wrestling champion Sariyah Jones and record-breaking Central Catholic running back Justin Rice.
Boys prep finalists included Rice’s teammate Kekupa’a Freehauf, Beyer tennis champion Ryan Lewis, former Modesto Christian basketball star Anthony Townes and Enochs state wrestling finalist McCoy Kent. The girls finalists were Oakdale discus champion Hannah Chappell, former Hughson softball standout Courtney Thornhill, Oakdale title-winning water polo goalie Caitlin Golding and ex-MC hoops star Candice White.
UCLA swept the open division, as ex-Bruins baseball star Kevin Kramer and UCLA softball outfielder Gabrielle Maurice captured the respective men’s and women’s awards. Neither was able to attend, as Kramer – a Turlock High graduate drafted last year by the Pittsburgh Pirates – kicked off his season with the Class A Bradenton Marauders in Florida. Maurice, a graduate of Johansen, continued her season for the 13th-ranked Bruins.
Kramer and Maurice became the 14th and 15th OAA honorees to win athlete-of-the-year honors in both the high school and open divisions.
The men’s open finalists were Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld (Modesto Christian) and Humboldt State’s prolific running back Ja’Quan Gardner (Central Valley). Modesto Junior College soccer star Yaritza Arista and European Cup skeleton champion Kendall Wesenberg (Central Catholic) comprised the women’s finalists.
The OAA also cited two teams for historic achievements in 2015 – the Central Catholic Raiders for their fourth straight state football title and the Enochs girls state-champion wrestling team.
The rest of the awards list:
Hall of Fame – Inducted were Bob Boswell, who has wrapped up his distinguished 38-year career as MJC athletic trainer, and the late Bob Hoegh, the popular and innovative MJC head football coach and defensive coordinator. Boswell has mentored countless MJC students and traveled to 29 countries as a trainer in national and international competitions. “If you love what you do, it’s reflected in your job. Thanks for noticing,” Boswell said.
Jay Pattee – Louis Jordan and the late Sam LaCross, two former professional fighters who volunteered their time to help young boxers for 20 years in the Modesto Police Activities League, were recognized for their public service to the sports community.
Darell Phillips – The coaches award went to the late Dick Windemuth, Modesto’s “Mr. Baseball” whose fundamentally sound teams at Modesto and Grace Davis claimed a combined eight league titles.
Tom Mellis – Mark Borges, a Hughson High senior, received a $2,500 scholarship grant in memory of one of the SOS founders.