SAINT LEO, Fla. – After nearly a six month buildup, the Saint Leo baseball team kicked off their 2010 season last Saturday night as they hosted the inaugural “Opening Night with the Lions” where the standing-room-only audience met the 2010 Lions for the first time. They saw how far the program had come after a speech from alumnus Dave Garcia, and listened to a jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring address from former Major-League pitcher and cancer survivor Dave Dravecky.

The night kicked off as Master of Ceremonies Dr. Ken Whitten, pastor of Tampa’s 10,000-member Idewild Baptist Church, welcomed everyone to the beautiful Student Community Center and provided the night’s blessing before everyone enjoyed the evening’s dinner, which was graciously provided by the Latam Restaurant.

After dinner, Dr. Whitten introduced Dave Garcia, a 1996 graduate and tremendous supporter of the University, who talked of his time on the Southard Stadium diamond, the successes he and his team had on the field, and what it took to wear the Green & Gold of Saint Leo.  Garcia’s resume, littered with trophies and awards, including a Hall of Fame honor, the Saint Leo and Sunshine State Conference Athlete of the Year award and All-Region trophies, would not have been possible if he didn’t believe in where he was and what his purpose was.

Before the night’s guest speaker took the stage, Head Coach Russ McNickle introduced the 2010 Lions and also presented last year’s Sunshine State Conference Freshman of the Year Award to Dustin Brown, whose tremendous play last season, coming off the bench to become a crucial part of the SLU lineup, was used by Mr. Dravecky later in the evening.

After a brief introduction by Dr. Whitten, the crowd’s attention shifted toward the video screens, which showed a recap of Dave Dravecky’s story, his rise through Major League Baseball with both the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants and his battle with cancer in his pitching arm.  It showed his fight to return to the game he loved only to see his ‘dreams’ shattered, along with his arm on the second start back and have the cancer return to ultimately force the amputation of his left arm.

Dravecky then took the stage and proceeded to tell the crowd that his life during those years was divided into three parts – the good, the bad and the ugly.  The good involved his rise to the Major Leagues.  The bad involved his fight with cancer.  The ugly involved the loss of his arm and the resulting depression that set in as he felt his worth was taken away.

“My arm caught the attention of the entire school, when, as a teenager, I pitched my first no hitter,” Dave said.  “(Later) my ability to provide for my family was not based on how smart I was or how hard I worked. It was based solely on what my arm could do on game day. When people talked with me, it was the center of conversation. ‘How’s the arm today, Dave? Is your arm ready for tonight?’ My arm was to me what hands are to a concert pianist, what feet are to a marathon runner. It’s what made me valuable, what gave me worth in the eyes of the world. Then suddenly my arm was gone.”

An imposing figure to begin with, Dravecky’s presence on the stage commanded attention from the audience as he held up his trading card from his time as a player.  The card turned out to be an important piece in his life, as he came to realize that there was life outside of the player that was pictured.

He ultimately concluded that the loss of him arm, while tragic in itself, was almost a blessing in disguise as he came to realize that his worth did not lie in what he could do on the mound, but what he could do for others.

Dravecky concluded the night and received a standing ovation, his address undoubtedly affecting this year’s Saint Leo baseball team.