ORLANDO, Fla. -- "This very moment my fingers are on fire, and it feels like someone is jabbing a knife in the palm of my left hand," Dave Dravecky said yesterday.
"The doctors call it 'phantom pain.' Even though my left arm and shoulder have been amputated, I will experience this pain as long as I live."
At 35, Dravecky, a former pitcher with the San Francisco Giants, is eager to begin a new life. Making his first public appearance since cancer surgery on June 18, he looked astonishingly fit and hardy.
Dravecky said that faith in God and the love of his wife, Janice, and their children -- Tiffany and Jonathan -- have helped him endure cancer problems that began in 1988.
"Without Jesus Christ, I would not have the strength to endure this," he said.
"I've not questioned what happened to me," he said. "I've not asked, 'Why me?' I believe there is a purpose in all this. My only question to God is, 'What plan is it that you have for me in the midst of this storm?' "
Dravecky was a very good baseball player, the kind of pitcher a team wanted in a big game. He pitched twice in the 1984 World Series for the San Diego Padres. He did not allow a run in four innings. His career earned run average was 3.13. Good numbers.
Numbers -- even as good as his -- aren't what Dave Dravecky is all about, why he stands so tall with his former teammates and managers.
"In all my 40 years in baseball, Dave Dravecky is the most inspirational person I have known in the sport," Giants manager Roger Craig said. "He is mentally and spiritually the strongest person I ever met."
After surgeons removed a cancerous tumor and most of the muscle from Dravecky's pitching arm in October 1988, they told him his chances of pitching again were near zero.
On Aug. 10, 1989, Dravecky pitched and won. Five days later, facing Montreal, he broke his arm with a pitch to outfielder Tim Raines -- the last throw of his career.
While celebrating the Giants' NL title-clinching win that October, Dravecky broke the arm again.
L Dravecky said he now will turn to golf, tennis and swimming.
"I want to play golf . . . even if I shoot 150, I'm going to play. I'll try tennis, too. I used to be a swimmer. Was pretty good, too. I used to swim the individual medley on our school team. Looks like I'll have to concentrate on freestyle now. The butterfly is out."
Dravecky also told a story about his son, Jonathan, 6, seeing him the first time after surgery.
"He was scared," Dravecky said. "He circled the bed a couple of times and kept looking at the empty space where my arm had been.
"About 15 minutes later, he came back and said, 'Daddy, my buddies want to see' ... it was sort of show-and-tell time for them."
As much as he wants to go out and tell his story, Dravecky said yesterday he knows he will need rest at home in Boardman, Ohio.
"God is giving me the opportunity to share the gospel with a lot of people," he said, "but I've got to take it a step at a time. I'm not the only one on God's team."