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Friday, February 18, 2011

Dave Clark: A Story of Inspiration

A few weeks ago I met an extraordinary man. His story was even a surprise to me (the girl who thought she knew everything baseball!). This man, a former ballplayer, accomplished more in his life than most of us could ever fathom. He played baseball disabled... and he excelled.

I learned about Dave Clark shortly before I was able to meet him. Through the wonders of social networking, I was able to connect with his agent/manager and it was there that I learned about his remarkable story. As perfect timing would grant us, Dave was enroute to Chicago that very weekend to be honored at the Chicago Pitch and Hit Clubs 65th Annual Awards Banquet which I happened to be invited to, as well.

At the banquet, Dave was awarded the "Bo Jackson Courage Award" for his contributions to baseball through the inspiring story that got him to this point. I was able to meet Dave that night and speak with him and his agent for quite some time. What I learned was nothing short of a miracle. When Dave was just an infant he was diagnosed with polio, a disabling disease that not only stunted his growth but also left his legs mostly immobile. But that didn't stop him from achieving his dreams. Dave loved baseball and he eventually played professionally while on crutches. In that astonishing manner, he surprised a lot of people along the way. He competed with the best of the best and he proved himself a success among them.

What I wonder is if we are born with courage or if it is something we gain. Is it the wonderful work of our parents and elders who encourage our inspiration? Or is it something within ourselves that we are simply born with? Is it a gene or even better, a biological miracle, that some of us are just destined to be hopeful and optimistic? I like to think it's a little of both, but more so that we are able to learn it. I think that there is a good versus bad mentality out there, but I also believe that our upbringings - our parents and our idols - help mold our values. My mother raised me to do the right thing, even when no one is watching while my father taught me to always keep an open mind. I'd have to say, those values right there are a big reason why I am who I am. And while I don't know much about Dave's upbringing, I imagine the support was there.

At the awards banquet, Dave Clark told a story from his childhood. (Paraphrased:) His whole life, he'd go to school with the rest of his peers but once it came time for P.E. class, he was always told to go to the side and sit out while the rest of the kids took part in the fun activities. Well, when he was 8 years old and starting a new grade, one teacher finally went against the grain and challenged young Dave. As he was taking his usual spot on the side of the gym floor, the new teacher yelled to him asking what he was doing. Dave responded with his disability, and his teacher immediately told him to join the rest of the class. The teacher did not acknowledge the disability as an obstacle and he made Dave participate with the class that day -climbing the rope! That day only one kid in the entire class reached the very top... it was Dave. Of course he had a little trouble coming down on the landing, but he felt no pain as a big smile stretched across his face. It was that challenge that he realized he really could do anything.

Dave went on to accomplish a great deal more in his life. His many accomplishments go without needing explanation: In 1975 he was awarded the Fireman of the Year Award as the top relief pitcher for the Indianapolis Clowns. Two years later he was inducted to the Corning-Painted Post Hall of Fame. In 1981 Dave was selected to the Swedish Elite Baseball League All-Star Team. In 1996 and 1997 he received a national Giant Steps Award for his coaching and was named the manager of the Swedish Elite League All Star game, respectively. He has been honored with the National Heroes of Sports Award (1999), the Corning Community College Distinguished Alumni Award (2001), and as mentioned above the Bo Jackson Courage Award (2011). You can also find Dave in the Ithaca College Hall of Fame (2002 induction) and his book "Diamond in the Rough" was published in 2008. My favorite of all of his awards though, has got to be when he was named as one of the “150 Heroes: People in Sports Who Make This a Better World” by Richard Lapchick in 2010. I also personally believe he deserves the Ford Frick Award.

Baseball is a sport of inspiration. Dave Clark is an ambassador for baseball through his courage and persistance. It's very obvious the love he has for this game, the people involved, and he believes in its' never ending hopes that baseball provides for our souls. If we can learn something from Dave, it's that we all have success within us. If inspiration is a attribute that can be learned, then what is it that stops most from reaching it path? Granted, some of us may have a few more hurdles along the way, but that only makes the end result that much sweeter.

Keep living The Baseball Life,

“Dave Clark’s story is an astonishing blend of fact and fact. It only reads like fiction, but one could never make up the battles he has waged, the obstacles he has overcome, the victories that were finally his."

—Mike Veeck, Baseball Executive and son of the legendary promoter Bill Veeck

"Dave is currently a motivational speaker, envoy coach for Major League Baseball International, a scout for the Baltimore Orioles and radio analyst for the Florida Everblades." - From his website, To purchase Dave's book, please CLICK HERE.